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Betrayal in Blue

By C. R. Downing All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Untitled chapter

Chapter 28

There must be something I can do besides sit here at my desk and wait for information,” Mamba said to his reflection in the mirror above the sink in the restroom in his office. It was Tuesday. He winced as bent his left elbow to look at his watch. He’d agreed to use a sling for a week after being shot by the hitman who’d tried to kill Mulligan. This was day number five.

Every time he moved his arm he was glad the ER doctor had convinced him of the need for the support of his injured arm. He rubbed his shoulder joint above his stitches while he continued his monolog with the mirror.

“It’ll be a while before there’ll be a report from Martinez on any evidence of an information leak about the pseudo-raid. I could—”

He shook his head in an attempt to shake an idea loose. But his mind failed to display anything other than several imaginary steel balls rolling around a clown’s face. Each ball missed every hole it passed.

Then, out of nowhere he could define, it hit him.

“I’ll visit Mike in the hospital!”

He locked his office and got in his car. His original plan was to visit every day. He’d already blown that.

Oh, my goodness. It feels like my guilt’s chauffeuring me to the hospital in my own car.

As he drove, Mamba could think of only two good things about going to visit Mulligan in the hospital. First, he was visiting Mike in the hospital and not visiting his headstone in a cemetery. The second good thing was that Flatly Broke was in the same hospital.

He could make two visits with one trip. But, there was nothing that could offset the fact that he had to visit his former partner through a window in a wall of a room in ICU.

As was his hospital visitation routine, after parking his car, Phil spent several minutes praying for both Mulligan and Flatly. Spiritually recharged, he walked briskly to the hospital’s entrance.

Since intensive care was on the top floor, Mamba stopped in to see Flatly on his way up. The ex-boxer was sitting in the chair beside the bed. He looked much better than the last time Mamba visited him. I’m going to let him know how good he looks.

“You’re looking good.”

“Man, I am on top today, Dancer. Dis ther’py stuff ain’t too bad. They says I’m doing good at it.” He noticed Mamba’s sling. “Hey, man! How’d you get hurt?”

“I didn’t dodge fast enough. A bullet got me.”

“What you doin’ bein’ shot at?”

“Lieutenant Mulligan needed my help.”

“It don’t look like you was quite enough help,” the boxer said as he studied Mamba’s face. “The Lieutenant’s hurt, too, isn’t he?”

“Hello, Mr. Wiggins. Time for your therapy.” The cheerful voice of Nurse Reilly interrupted.

Mamba looked around the room. Except for Flatly and himself, the room was empty. He was about to inform the nurse of her error when Flatly spoke.

“You almos’ late, nurse,” he chided. “I’s beginnin’ to give up on you.”

“Don’t do that! You can’t give up,” she sobbed in her best melodramatic actress fashion. “You have to get better!” She gasped and added, “For me!”

“Hey, I was jus’ kiddin.”

“I know.” She gave Mamba a wink. “Hop in,” she directed as she pointed down to the wheelchair she’d rolled in.

Flatly’s own grin blossomed as her humor sunk in. By the time he climbed into the wheelchair, there was an enormous smile crinkling his face.

“Where are you going, Flatly?” Mamba asked. “Nurse Reilly said she was looking for Mr. Wiggins.”

“That’s me, man,” Flatly said as he stole a furtive glance around the room. “Only don’t hardly nobody know. ’Cept Snake, and Nurse Erin here, and now you. And, don’t you go tellin’ nobody ’bout that.”

“I’ll never tell.” It’s amazing what different people want to be kept secret. He’d rather be Flatly Broke than Whoever Wiggins. He shook his head in amazement, an action the fighter interpreted as agreement to his request.

He nodded his appreciation.

“Let’s get a move on,” he called to his wheelchair driver. Erin smiled and pushed him from the room.

Mamba went down the hallway and opened the door leading to the stairwell. He hoped climbing stairs would bolster him before he arrived in the intensive care unit. He took each step carefully. He was in no hurry. It kills me to see Mike like this. I can’t imagine what Kate’s going through.

Opening the stairwell door at the ICU floor, he spotted Kate Mulligan exiting the room where her husband lay. Oh, Dear God, help me. I have no idea what to say. She looked closer to eighty than the early-thirties he knew her to be.

He stood for a moment, framed by the doorway. She glanced in his direction. Her head stopped turning. She stared at him with a look he couldn’t classify. He straightened his shoulders and took his first step toward her. I could use those words, God . . . now.

“Mike’s still alive!” Kate Mulligan shouted as she propelled herself at Mamba. He sped up his pace. She engulfed him in a sobbing embrace less than ten of his steps later. Although Kate’s arm pushed hard against his injured bicep, he felt no pain.

He also learned, at that moment, that no words were necessary.

* * *

In spite of Martinez’s usual bravado, he had to convince himself that he was ready to sell the fake drug bust idea to his Captain. After riding side streets long enough to get the motorcycle’s engine hot, he roared up to the front of the station. He jumped off his bike and made a mad dash up the front steps. By the time he reached the Captain’s office, he was breathing heavily.

“I need to see the Captain!” His voice boomed in the small reception area of the office.

“Right now, he’s on a conference call, Officer Martinez. Why don’t you get some water and relax until he’s free?”

“Okay,” Martinez panted. “I’ll be down in the squad room. Call me as soon as he’s available! This is muy importante!

Ten minutes after he’d bombarded the Captain’s receptionist, she called the squad room. Two minutes after that call, Martinez was standing in front of his Captain.

“I tell you, sir, a major deal is going down tomorrow. I want to be there,” the Latino said. It was a passionate conclusion to his overview of the fabricated information about the fake bust he’d agreed to deliver.

“This is hard to believe, Martinez. You say you learned all this yesterday? There must have been months of planning on the drug dealers’ side for a deal of this magnitude. I say something’s fishy.” The doubt expressed by the Division Captain was amplified by his tone of voice and the look on his face.

“This source hasn’t missed yet!” The narcotics officer insisted, pushing as hard as he dared. He watched the Captain’s face. If Abbott bought in, the plan would sell itself to the few suspects that were to be tested for leakage. Take the bait, Captain. You know you want to!

“All right, but I want this monitored closely. No mistakes! With Stallings who-knows-where and Mulligan almost dead, I can’t afford another blown bust!”

“Yes, sir! Leave it to me,” Martinez boomed and beat a hasty retreat.

“I don’t have much choice now,” the Captain muttered after him.

Martinez found an unoccupied desk in the squad room, grabbed a chair, collapsed into it, and listed several essential tactical points of the planned bust of the imaginary drug deal on a piece of typing paper. He surveyed his handiwork, corrected two major misspellings, and added a notation to the end of the page.

Satisfied with the document, he watched while Janet Cowan made six copies for him. If Cowan’s the leak, she doesn’t need to find a copy. She’s not making deliveries this morning, either. He altered the agreed-upon plan. I’ll deliver the local copies myself.

Convinced he’d improved the plan, he headed from the copy room to the Captain’s office and dropped off one copy. He continued to the station’s reception desk. He stopped, placed his stack of copies on the raised desktop, and spoke in hushed tones.

“I’m expecting a call,” Martinez lied to Sergeant Smith. “It’s from a CI of mine. Could be important considering the raid that’s in the works.”

“Copy that,” Smith answered. “Where do you want me to transfer the call?”

“If the guy calls, ring Stallings’ extension. Cut off after three rings. When I hear that, I’ll come back here to take the call. If I’m not Johnny-on-the-spot, it means I’m already out at the site.”

“I made myself a note,” Smith said.

“Thanks,” Martinez said. He scooped the pile of copies off Smith’s desk. But, the bottom copy remained. It looked like he’d inadvertently left it behind. He was in no hurry as he walked away.

The desk phone rang. Smitty picked up the call.

Martinez slowed giving the Sergeant time to alert him of the errant copy. The self-appointed delivery boy turned the corner of the hallway and disappeared from sight. Smitty made no attempt to him to come back for the copy. He didn’t know whether that was intentional or not.

Back in the squad room, Martinez slid a copy of the plan into each of two routing envelopes. He addressed one to Chief Rogers and the other to the Assistant Chief. He placed both of them in the URGENT outbox in the mailroom. Documents in that bin were transported to MPD’s central office every hour on the hour.

He returned to the squad room and began an anxious vigil. He would have to wait at least twenty hours to see what the fruit of his labors would be. He called Mamba’s office.

He got the answering machine.

He left a message.

* * *

Darrel Evans entered Miss Kitty’s Gunsmoke Saloon with no intention of purchasing a drink. He’d been tossed from the place once when he refused to leave at closing time. What drinker is done drinking at 2:30 in the morning?

In his mind, the indignity he’d suffered when four or five men muscled him out the back door more than justified what he planned to do to even the score. In his mind, he was doing nothing more than making up for that affront.

He walked inside. At the bar, he selected the first empty bar stool he reached. He grabbed the seat and, accompanied by a visceral grunt, twisted.

The stool began to relinquish its grip on the wooden floor with the squealing sound of metal twisting. A snap that signified the four bolts in the chair’s base surrendered to Evans’ brute strength.

The bar stool crashed into the mirror behind the bartender. The sound of shattering glass announced that of shards of the mirror were en route to the bar top and floor beyond.

Evans ignored the debris, intertwined his fingers and straightened his arms with his palms facing out. Now fully loosened up, he moved on to the next stool, which, not surprisingly had been recently vacated.

The Dispatcher launched seven stools towards various locations inside the bar before the police arrived. At the sight of the blue uniforms, he straightened up and dropped an eighth barstool at his feet.

His face glowed with ethereal serenity while one officer placed the handcuffs around his wrists. Another officer stood at a significant distance from the handcuffing with his weapon trained on the blonde man-mountain.

Verbal abuse from the bartender and the owner of the establishment rolled off the hitman’s back. They could say anything they wanted. He’d accomplished his purpose. He repeated that purpose as an acolyte repeats a mantra all the way to the station.

Sidney Brewster is in prison. Sidney Brewster is the reason my brother is dead. I am going to the same prison. I will kill Sidney Brewster in that prison.

The fact that he had demolished the bar belonging to one of his least favorite people as his last act of freedom had only sweetened his revenge.

* * *

This is shocking. I can’t believe there’s been no chatter about this until now. With Brewster hanging in the wind in prison, it’s time to make my move.

Eddie Edwards punched in a well-known phone number. After recognizing the sounds of a call being forwarded, the phone was answered.

“Yeah?”

“Give me whoever thinks he’s the new Brewster.”

There was a clank as the handset was placed on what sounded like a metallic surface. There followed a period of time where only undecipherable voices were heard on the line. The scraping sound of the handset being retrieved signaled a decision had been made.

“This is Elkhart. Who’s this?”

“Just shut up and listen.”

The phone line went dead.

Edwards swore, looked around, and redialed the phone.

“Don’t hang up, Elk-something, right? I’ve got important news for whoever thinks they’re in charge. And, I’m not used to having the telephone hung up on me!”

“I’ll try to remember that,” Rick Elkhart said without a hint of sincerity before repeating his request. “My name’s Elkhart. Who is this?”

“I’m on two payrolls,” was the enigmatic rejoinder.

“I don’t have time for games! Give me what you’ve got, whoever you are, or get off this line!”

“Do the initials MPD mean anything to you?”

“So you’re the insider at the police station.” Just what I don’t need right now is a cop with an inflated ego. I’ll play nice . . . for a minute. “What have you got for me?”

“I’m holding in my hand a plan to confiscate what appears to be a large quantity of your product. It’s in serious jeopardy from a phalanx of cops who’ll be headed to a house on 12th Street tomorrow morning.”

“Hold on,” Elkhart directed. Edwards heard what sounded like a series of answers to the same question in the background.

“Don’t know where you got your intel, but we’ve got nothing going on anywhere close to any address on 12th Street.”

“That’s odd, because there’s a full-blown raid set for tomorrow. I’m telling you, I’m holding a copy of the strategic plan in my hand.”

“I wondered how long it might be until another group decided to muscle into our territory. They must have been waiting for Brewster’s arrest to make their move.”

“You’re telling me this isn’t one of Brewster’s deals?”

“Are you arrogant and hard of hearing? I just said that. Get the details over to the Sleep ’N Snore Motel. And do it now. We can always learn from what the cops do in situations similar to ours.”

“I don’t like being a target of sarcasm,” the informant warned.

“I’ll add that to your growing lists of complaints. I don’t like being treated like a child,” Elkhart barked back. “If you plan on staying, how’d you put it earlier? Oh, yeah, ‘on two payrolls,’ then you’ll get that plan to that motel on the double.

Rick Elkhart slammed the handset back into the phone base. Those in the room around him were impressed. He’d acted like the boss.

I hope I didn’t push that information conduit into becoming a double agent. But, this is no time to dwell on what’s only a possibility, Rick thought. He put on his best poker face and turned to face what were, at least temporarily, his minions.

Back at the station, after the less than cordial conversation, Edwards slid the copy of the strategic plan back into the stack of copies Janet Cowan had prepared for his inspection. No need for others to know just how much I know.

* * *

It had been a slow day in the office of the Chief of Police. While Petula Jacobs appreciated down time, too much of a good thing also had its drawbacks. Downtime led to boredom. Boredom often led to unfocused action.

As she thumbed through the pile of routine reports for the third or fourth time, she noticed something out of place. She stopped her thumbing and pulled a stapled set of copies from the stack.

Oh, my! I almost missed this. It needs to get out quickly! She decided to make a call. Then, maybe, she’d tell her boss.

She dialed Anderson Pharmaceuticals and asked the receptionist to speak with the owner.

“This is William Anderson. How may I help you?”

“I just got a copy of the strategic plan for a major raid on what was Sidney Brewster’s operation.”

“I see. What’s the timeline?” No amenities. Rogers must consider this information to be critically important.

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Thank the Chief for me, please,” Anderson directed as he terminated the call.

“I’ll be sure and do that,” Jacobs said into the dead phone. If I decide to tell him at all!

As soon as he’d hung up the phone, Anderson made another call.

“Get me Reed. I’ve got another job for him.”

“When, Señor Arcenas?”

“Tonight. It’s crucial that he hit the pharmaceutical warehouse before dawn.”

“He might be hard to find.”

“You know what happens if you don’t find him, correcto?”

Sí, Señor. He’ll be at la puerta de su oficina by 0430.”

* * *

It was 7 a.m. on the day of Martinez’s raid on the imaginary drug stash. Santa Ana conditions were gone. The dew’s heavy dampness clung to the isolated blades of grass in the yard of the target house on 12th Street.

Eleven officers circled the structure. Silent communication between them revealed that the time had come to enter the structure. The sounds of two doors and the bathroom window being smashed were evidence of the simultaneous coordination of the raid.

Officers moved through the rooms of the dwelling. Diligence on their part uncovered none of what was supposed to have been one of the largest drug caches in the history of the city. A sullen group of narcotics agents assembled in the front room of the house. The room held only a dilapidated armchair and a scattering of trash as furnishings.

“I found something!” The cry came from one of the two back bedrooms. Two officers with weapons in hand hurried to assist the caller.

Less than two minutes later three officers entered the living room escorting a pair of naked young people. The girl held her clothes in an awkward attempt to cover her nudity. The boy reeked of arrogance as he paraded beside his captor. It was evident that his arrogance was bolstered by the consumption of the lion’s share of the nearly empty bottle of cheap booze one of the policemen carried in a gloved hand.

“We found two reefers and this,” the officer with the bottle said as he held the green glass container aloft. “There is some evidence that there might have been some other drugs here, but they’re not here now.”

““Do these two have any ID?” the officer in charge asked.

“It says he’s nineteen,” said the officer who’d removed the wallet from the boy’s pants pocket held up a driver’s license.

“I’m eighteen. Last month,” slurred the young woman.

“Contact Juvenile about her.” The officer in charge waved off her protestations. “Book him on contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession. Oh, yeah, add attempted rape. Maybe that will sober him up back at the station. But, if he keeps this attitude, add public nudity and drunkenness, too.

The officer nodded. He pushed the boy out of the house to ensure the public nudity charge. An officer arrived with a blanket, which the officers wrapped around the girl. Looking more like a burrito than high school student, she was steered to the black and white.

“Not much to show for all this effort, is it?” one of the officers asked just loud enough to be overheard by the officer in charge.

“I agree,” was the reluctant response. “Martinez has got some fast talking to do on this one.”

“Where is the Snake?” asked another officer.

“He called in sick. I talked to him, and it sounded legit,” said the first.

“Wrap it up,” the officer in charge barked as he waved his hand in a circular pattern above his head. He stalked from the house. He had a serious bone to pick with Detective Martinez.

* * *

Mulligan did not know where he was. He did not know what day it was. He did not know why he felt pain—severe pain.

Although he felt the pain, he couldn’t isolate the part of his body that was causing that pain. He remembered being forced to kneel. He remembered lurching forward at the man with the gun. Then all that he remembered was pain.

Searing pain.

Throbbing pain.

Aching, ever-present pain.

He tried to sit up. His left arm pushed off the bed as always. His right arm failed to respond. He flopped to one side. A claxon-like sound penetrated the pain. He rolled back, but the sound continued.

He tried to sit up a second time. Now, the hands of what felt like a mob of people forced him back to the supine position he had occupied. He directed his arms to push the mob away. Again his right arm failed to respond.

He shook his head in anger and frustration.

The new burst of pain hit him like a fully-loaded semi truck and trailer. He cried out in anguish and tried to grab his temples but only managed to get his left hand to his head. He had to hold the pain inside. When the pain escaped, it hurt far worse than when it stayed bottled up in his skull.

He passed out.

* * *

The day after the staged drug bust went bust, Martinez found himself standing before Captain Abbott.

“How could you be that wrong?” the Captain demanded. “We tie up eleven officers and come up with one misdemeanor drug charge.”

“I don’t know, sir,” Martinez said in a level voice. “That source has never been wrong before.”

“To top it off,” Abbott continued, his voice rising with each phrase. “To top it off, while we’re embarrassing ourselves in a deserted house, someone’s ripping off Anderson Pharmaceuticals. Again. That’s where the major drug action was last night, Officer Martinez. Anderson Pharmaceutical’s warehouse!”

“Will that be all, sir?”

“What? Didn’t you hear me?” The Captain bellowed.

“I heard you, sir.”

“And, ‘will that be all?’ is all you have to say?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Martinez, I, I—,” Abbott spluttered. “I ought to suspend you!”

“Yes, sir,” the Latino bit off each of the two syllables in his response.

“However, I can’t afford to have another man missing right now.” He sighed. After refocusing, he added, “I’m letting you stay, but IAD is going to hear about this. There’ve been too many instances recently where set-ups that you’ve been involved with have gone sour. Maybe they’re barking up the wrong tree with Stallings and this leak.”

“Is that all, sir?” Snake hissed. He was close to the end of his self-control. One more crack about my motivation or loyalty and you won’t be able to suspend me long enough for what I do!

“Dismissed,” was the curt retort.

* * *

A sullen Mamba and Martinez sat in Mamba’s office. The coffee that sat in cups on the office desk was excellent, although it had now cooled too much to be considered excellent by either of the two men present.

Martinez was upset with his Captain’s strongly presented accusation that he might be the departmental leak.

The PI, who couldn’t understand what else Martinez had expected, was unhappy with the paper he held in his hand. It was he who broke the tacitly agreed-upon silence.

“These are copies of our plan. Copies that I got out on the street this morning. Rumor has it that they were available before dark two days ago.”

“That means that the information was passed within hours of when I gave out the copies of the plan,” Martinez complained. For a moment, he forgot Captain Abbott’s insinuation as he focused on the problem as a whole. Then he reverted to what was, for the time being, his prime concern.

“I can’t believe they could think that it’s me that’s been leaking information.”

“Well.” Mamba hesitated. “I think part of the problem may be that these are copies of your handwritten page.”

¡Suficiente! I’ve had enough of this!” The Snake struck at the pages, his meat hook hand swiping the pages from the PI’s grasp. “Let me see those.”

“Leave my fingers attached, will you?”

“No way! There is no way this could happen.” The Latino complained loudly as he scrutinized the copies. Then, a look of confused revelation crossed Martinez’s face. He looked at Mamba.

“What?” was the PI’s question in response several seconds of a trance-like gaze.

“Looking at these made me think of something! Do you have copies of any other papers that were leaked?”

“Sure. Most of them are over in the file cabinet.” Mamba went to the file cabinet and pulled open the second drawer. “If I’d known that staring at photocopies stimulated your thinking, I’d have had you look at some weeks ago.”

“Did you guys hear the latest?” Franklin Stallings’ voice interrupted Phil’s search and stifled whatever retort Martinez was formulating as he pushed open the office door.

“Not since this morning,” Mamba answered without looking up. “What’s the latest?”

“The news broadcast last hour reported an interesting story,” Stallings began. “Anderson Pharmaceuticals was robbed last night. While not at the same time, it kind of coincided with our phony raid. I wonder how those burglars knew MPD would be tied up on 12th Street? That’s what, all the way across town from where they hit?”

“I didn’t know that,” Martinez admitted. His brow furrowed in thought before he added. “Once the news of the raid was out, all the real dealers would have known it was phony. That’d be quite an opportunity for an uninterrupted drug heist.”

“He’s right. The dealers would have known that information was bogus.” Mamba mumbled something that might have been a profanity as he slapped the copies he’d retrieved to the desktop. “Sounds like our brilliant idea cost Anderson more of his legal drugs. We should have thought of that.” If that’s true, why hasn’t Anderson been all over me about it yet?

“Thank you, Dan Rather, but we’d better get back to work here,” Martinez said as he collected the copies from Phil’s desktop. He began by studying each page. He wasn’t sure of exactly what he was looking for. He hoped he recognized it when, or if, he found it.

Stallings sat next to the Latino and stared at the pages along with him.

Mamba watched. I hope Martinez knows more than it looks like he does about what he’s looking for. If not, we’re going to be here a long, long time.

“This is strange,” the big man announced at length.

“What’s strange?”

“Look at these two pages,” Martinez instructed, sliding copies of two different pages across the desk to the PI. One was a copy of the phony drug raid report that Martinez had filed. The other was a copy of one of the pages of the original list that Mamba had written and given Stallings and Mulligan.

The private detective examined the two pages for what he deemed an appropriate length of time. I have no idea what he saw or what he expects me to see. He asked, “What am I supposed to be seeing?”

“Thank you,” Stallings said. “All that I saw was one copy each of two different documents.”

“Maybe I’m seeing things that I want to be there and not seeing what’s really there,” Martinez admitted. “But, these copies don’t look like they were made on the same copier.”

“So? That’s not surprising to me. There must be several thousand copiers in this city.”

“I don’t mean that each copy isn’t from the same machine. I mean that maybe the first copy of the original was made on a different machine than the other copies.”

Blank looks greeted his revelation.

“I know a guy that works on copiers. Once he bet me that he could tell when two copies were made on different machines. He bet me twenty dollars. Twenty dollars buys a lot of Mexican food. So, I took him up on it. I went to four different places and made one copy of a piece of junk mail at each place.”

Mamba thought, I hope he gets done soon. I want to go to the hospital this afternoon.

“Is this going anywhere?” Stallings asked. Mamba flashed him a thumb’s up.

“I’m almost finished. As I was about to say, I marked each page as it came out of the machine before I showed them to the guy.”

“The suspense is killing me. Let me guess what happened,” Stallings said. Mamba had to smile.

“Okay, Sergeant, what happened?”

“The guy knew they were all from different copy machines because he set you up. He knew you’d use different machines for each copy. You made it easy for him.”

“Actually, that’s close. I’m impressed.”

Stallings gave him a hard stare. I hope you gave me credit for the sarcasm, Sergeant. Martinez expanded his comment. “I’m impressed with the logic you employed. I thought the same thing, too, at first.”

“I’ve got to get going,” Mamba said as he stood. “Visiting hours are short in the ICU.”

“And, I’ve got to call Lizbeth,” Stallings said.

“Fine. Just let me take these with me,” Martinez said.

“It’s okay with me. I’ve got my own set . . . somewhere,” Stallings said as winked at Mamba.

“I think you’ve just created your own personal world-record-sized red herring,” Mamba said through his smile at Stallings’ self-deprecation humor. “Take the copies if you want to. Should I make a copy of each one first?”

Grimaces from both police officers greeted the lame question. Martinez decided to take the high road on Mamba’s failed humorous interlude. He kept his conclusion on task.

Gracias. Give me the rest of the day to do some checking. Meet me here in the morning at eight o’clock.” He added, “Por favor, Señor Mamba, don’t call me antes de las ocho.”

* * *

The room in the ICU occupied by Mulligan differed only minimally from every other room in the unit. Once he was transferred to another floor, the room would revert completely to the generic model. There would be no need for some of the equipment he required and a dire need for certain pieces of equipment that he did not need. Intensive care rooms were the shape-shifters of the hospital universe.

On this particular day, Mulligan’s room was dimly lighted. The Lieutenant was unaware of that fact. The massive bandage covering the stitches from the equally massive first surgery following his attack masked both eyes.

This day marked the second time that Mulligan awakened. He was tempted to sit up. The memory of the intense pain during his last conscious movement aborted his attempt before it began. Pain, like he’d experienced in that maneuver, did not need to be repeated to command respect. So, although clinically awake, he remained motionless in his darkness and focused his energy on trying to determine where he was.

He listened, straining to pick up any sound. I hear . . . not same . . . sounds. After a time, he distinguished assorted hums and beeps that seemed to be coming from his right. There was nothing but silence from his left side. Why . . . no . . . sounds . . . on . . . that . . . side?

Convinced he was awake, he opened his eyes. Blackness remained. No . . . see . . . light . . . The possibility of blindness bubbled unbidden, unwanted, and unnamed in his brain. Am I . . . not . . . seeing? It seemed to him that the term “blind” that was associated with loss of sight took far too long to emerge in an understandable form. And . . . why . . . can’t I . . . think of . . . words . . . I want?

The sensation of his eyelid brushing against gauze informed his brain that his face was covered. I . . . think . . . now . . . my eyes . . . could . . . work.

Another sensation ended his thoughts of vision. Something was jammed down his throat. Whatever it was made it difficult to swallow and impossible to talk. He would ask where he was and what had happened when his throat was empty again.

As he gave a head bob of approval to his decision, a ripple of pain splashed against his consciousness. Not . . . good . . . to . . . move . . . head. He braced his body in anticipation of the waves of agony to follow. When the first swell broke over his brain, it carried him back into the coma.

“I’m not sure, Kate,” Mamba said. “Maybe he moved a little. It’s hard for me to tell if any moves are intentional.”

“I’ve been here almost all day, every day. I saw his head move,” Kate Mulligan asserted. “I know what his unintentional movements look like. That move was intentional!”

Mamba looked at Kate’s face. It radiated joy. He decided not to say anything that didn’t support her conclusion.

“When you put it that way, I’d have to agree,” Mamba said. “After all, you’re the resident expert on that topic.”

Kate beamed.

“Come with me, and I’ll buy you some coffee, okay?” he offered.

“That would be nice, but I can’t stay away long.”

“Understood,” Mamba said. He took her hand in his. They left the ICU with a spring in their steps.

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