Darrel Evans did all that was in his power to speed up his arrival at the prison where Brewster was awaiting trial. He’d accepted handcuffs that were too small and unnecessary prods from billy clubs without retaliating. He’d pled guilty at his arraignment.
His restraint and compliance paid off. In less than three days, he found himself standing inside the same correctional facility as his nemesis.
“Where’s Brewster?” Evans asked the first inmate he made contact with.
“Whacha want him for, man?” the inmate replied. “He’s bad. Plus he’s already got some boys that protect him.”
“That may be so,” was Evans’ unconcerned comment. As long as they weren’t armed, there weren’t enough men in the jail to keep him from his achieving his goal. “But, I’ve got business with Mr. Brewster. It’s important that I see him today.”
“Just before dinner, he pays off for favors,” the inmate whispered. “It’s a big deal. Lots of the cons is there. You could see him then.”
“That sounds like it will work nicely,” Evans said with a smile. The more people that saw Brewster get his punishment the better. People like Brewster need to be taught a lesson about how to deal with the people that do their dirty work for them. I am going to make an example of Sidney Brewster.
At four-thirty that afternoon, Brewster and his entourage congregated against one wall of the exercise yard. Brewster stayed toward the back of the group. He let his minions deal with most of those who sought an audience. Only those he deemed worthy did he deign to speak to.
“I want to see Mr. Brewster,” Evans rumbled when his turn came.
“What about?” a screener asked.
“I have some information about that hit on the cop he ordered.”
“What kind of information?”
“Are you Sidney Brewster?” Evans’ voice was hard. His tone was his first hint at what anti-social behavior might result from noncompliance.
“Then, you don’t need to know.” He cut the man off and added a menacing glare for emphasis.
The man, taken aback by Evans’ size and agressive attitude, decided to let his boss decide about the blonde-haired mountain of muscle that stood glowering at him. He went to Brewster.
“The big dude over there says he has some information about the cop that got popped,” he informed.
“What’s done is done,” Brewster said.
“I think you might want to talk to him,” the screener pleaded. He did not relish delivering a negative answer from his boss to the behemoth. “He could be a good soldier.”
“He is a big hunk of meat, isn’t he,” Brewster appraised. “Send him over.”
“I assume you’re Brewster,” Evans said when he was as close as he knew he needed to be.
“Yeah, who are you?”
“My name’s Evans. Darrel Evans.”
“So what’s this information on the dead cop?”
“I never said I had information on the policeman,” Evans corrected Brewster’s false impression. “I told your man that I had information on the hit.”
“The hitman was my brother,” Evans spoke in a low, menacing voice.
“What?” Brewster complained. He took a step closer and uttered an obscenity. “You need to speak up. I can’t hear you.”
The Dispatcher smiled a grim smile. He’d lured his prey into his trap. He took one step closer to his target.
“You got my brother killed,” was Evans’ final comment—spoken loudly enough for Brewster’s entire entourage to hear. Ham-sized hands closed around the neck of Sidney Brewster.
A string of profanity was cut short as Evans’ fingers tightened their grip. Witnesses said that they heard the cracking of bones.
Brewster’s body went limp. Evans continued to squeeze. His thumbs pulled outward on the veins of Brewster’s neck. Blood flowed down the prison gray shirt of Sidney Brewster and spattered onto Evans. The hitman dropped the dead man in a puddle of his own life fluid.
His revenge complete, Darrel Evans reached down and wiped his bloody hands on Brewster’s pants. He straightened up. A pathway opened as he entered the crowd and headed toward the dining hall. The path closed behind him as he passed through. Not once was Evans’ personal space violated. A few inmates gathered around the lifeless form of their former leader.
The sound of the sirens indicated a prison-wide alert. As a phalanx of guards entered the exercise yard, Evans stopped his progress toward the dining hall. He shook his head. He was hungry. It was a shame that he was going to miss dinner.
News of the death of Sidney Brewster reached MPD headquarters at 5:50 p.m. A phone call to Mamba Investigations delivered the news to the PI minutes later. He called Hope in Lompoc and told her to pack her things. She, Jimmy, and Lizbeth were coming home.
* * *
Franklin Stallings waited while two women and a small child finished packing clothing in suitcases. The packing was in preparation of checking out of the motel room where they’d been staying. With Sidney Brewster no longer a threat, MPD figured that the chaos left in the wake of his demise would deter further thoughts of retaliation on Mamba or his family.
Stallings accepted the responsibility of escorting the vagabonds back to Manzanita.
“You ladies about ready?” he asked for the fifth time.
Lizbeth stopped and stared hard into the face of her husband. It was three days after what was her last scheduled chemotherapy treatment. She’d spent the day before in bed. Today, she felt like she should still be in bed. But not just any bed. She wanted to get back to a real bed before she slipped between sheets again.
“Are you blind?” She snapped. A flurry of observations, complaints, and criticism flashed through her thoughts.
I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck—and probably look like it, too. I’m dizzy. My whole body aches. Right now I’m not sure which is worse: cancer or chemo, and you don’t even take enough time to look around before you ask if we’re ready, again?
“Do we look ready?
“No. Why’d you ask that?” Stallings replied and immediately regretted his choice of words. He hoped his the look on his face reflected his regret.
“Because. We. Are. Still. Packing,” Lizbeth’s words hung in the air like socks on a clothesline, individual testimonials to his lack of emotional observational skills.
“Ow!” Hope yelped.
“You okay?” Lizbeth called. She swayed a little, fought to regain her balance, and then ran toward the bathroom.
Hope grabbed Jimmy and dodged to one side to allow her friend a direct path into the lavatory. I know that look. I’ve had it all to often recently. She pulled the bathroom door closed behind her friend to help mute the sound of Lizbeth’s retching.
“That was a pretty solid ’ow.’ Are you all right?” Stallings asked as Hope turned back into the room. The question was more an attempt to avoid talking about Lizbeth than it was curiosity about Hope’s situation.
“I’m sure I am.” Her fingers instinctively probed as she continued. “Jimmy just reached out and grabbed my boo— um, my b— chest.” She looked at Stallings, embarrassment tinting her face pink. I just fondled my breast in front of a strange man! “I, uh, I guess he’s stronger than I thought, because, um, it hurt.”
Stallings hid his smile as best he could by reaching down and grabbing the handle of a suitcase that appeared ready to load into the car. I’ve been listening to Lizbeth talk about you, Hope. I don’t think that your boobs hurt because of Jimmy’s strength. I know Lizbeth is pretty sure it’s the result of the child inside not the child outside.
“I’ll get this in the car,” he said as he walked out the door without looking back. “We could still be a while.”
* * *
The phone in the motel where “Brewster’s Survivors” were living had been ringing nearly non-stop for the past several hours. All Brewster’s phone numbers were programmed to forward calls to the last number in the queue when forty-eight hours passed without a completed call.
Most of the calls had been regular dealers requesting product. Some had been former associates wondering what the chances were of rejoining the organization, now that Brewster was dead.
The call currently in progress was neither of those.
“Who’s in charge now?” the voice demanded.
“We don’t know who’ll be appointed head of this branch on a permanent basis,” Rick Elkhart answered. As Brewster’s second in command, he assumed the mantle of leadership without challenge. No one knew more of the ins and outs of the operation than he did.
“Now that Mr. Brewster’s dead, we have to wait for word from the office. As it stands now, and like I told you the last time we talked, I am in charge.”
“Whatever. I want to know as soon as the replacement is named. I mean as soon as that happens. I want to renegotiate my deal.”
“I don’t think the main office will go for that,” Rick warned.
“I don’t care what you think they’ll go for,” Eddie Edwards snapped. “I’m taking a lot of risks here. And it’s not getting any easier for me.”
“You’re paid very well to take those risks.”
“Shut up! I don’t care if you think you’re in charge or not, you’re just a lowly employee like me. No! You’re lower than me. Don’t expect me to deliver items ever again. Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Don’t ever lecture me.”
“You talk pretty tough on the phone.” This loose cannon that needs to be reeled in or exposed.
“Just let me know when the new boss arrives, as soon as it happens. Remember, you can be replaced.” The sound of a handset crashing into its cradle ended the call.
“So can you,” Rick murmured as he replaced his handset on its base. “So can you.”
* * *
It was the day after Hope and Jimmy returned from Lompoc. The Mamba family was headed home from church.
After the usual recital by Jimmy of what he did in Sunday School, the rest of the trip home was spent in small talk between all the Mambas. By the time they got home, Phil had phased himself out of the conversation. Something the minister had said in his message stuck in his mind.
The sermon’s title was “Third Party Grace?” The pastor used an acrostic for grace. G = God’s, R = Relentless, A = Attempts to, C = Comfort. He couldn’t remember the last letter’s meaning.
What stuck with him was the idea that God’s grace is only what you need and when you need it. He’d said, “There’s no such thing as third party grace in situations. Only the active parties in a situation need the amount of grace they receive.”
He thought of Kate Mulligan. Her husband was balancing between life and death. Mamba could understand what she was going through. He’d been in a similar situation with Hope when a terrorist’s bomb had put her in the ICU. He was disturbed because he didn’t feel the same way about Mike.
“I thought I’d grown callous,” Phil said to Hope after Jimmy was down for his nap. “Pastor helped me see that I don’t need the same grace now that I had with your situation. I’m very grateful for that.”
“I noticed you’d stopped taking notes when Pastor said that about third party grace. But, I was never worried about you getting calloused. I know you. You have a heart for people.”
“Well, don’t let that get around.” He paused. When he spoke again it was in his best Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade voice. “I have a reputation as a hard-boiled private eye to maintain, Sweetheart.”
Hope shook her head and kissed him.
“I won’t tell a soul,” Hope said. I don’t have to tell them. They already know!
“I’m going to the hospital. I want Kate to know that I’m praying for and supporting Mike and her.”
* * *
Mamba usually jogged three mornings each week. He explained his routine as, “twenty minutes or two miles, whichever occurs first.” Since he’d been working on the overlapping cases with the MPD, his jogging had ceased.
I’ll pick up jogging again. Soon. But not today was his guilt-inspired promise to himself. He checked the morning paper and found two tangentially related articles that did inspire him to physical activity.
“Chamber of Commerce Weather” was predicted for Manzanita. In addition, a parade was planned in honor of the arrival of the first Spanish land grant owner.
Even the smallest deviation from the normal morning routine snarled Manzanita traffic like a string of Christmas lights put away by a three-year-old. He decided to take advantage of the weather and walk to Memorial General Hospital.
He changed into a casual shirt and pants, put on his jogging shoes, and headed out. After a brisk half-hour walk, he arrived at his destination. He stopped in the first men’s room he passed to rinse his face and hands.
He looked at the door to the stairwell, shook his head, and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. Everything in moderation, even exercise. He arrived at the door to Flatly’s room as his orthopedic surgeon was in the middle of an explanation.
“The therapy has improved your condition, Mr. Wiggins,” he told Flatly. “However, the choice has to be yours.”
“What choice is that, man?” he asked, unsure of the meaning of all that the doctor had related over the past several minutes.
Oh, man. I’m glad I’m here. I don’t know that Flatly’s capable of processing all the ramifications of any decision this doctor might give him to make.
His decision to intercede made, Mamba stepped into the room.
“If you’re a visitor, you should come back in five or ten minutes,” the surgeon advised in a tone that implied it was more a directive than an option.
“Hey. It’s okay, Doc. This is the Dancer. He’s my friend. He can stay.”
The doctor nodded indifferently to Mamba and resumed his explanation.
“If you continue with therapy you will regain limited mobility in your right arm. Therapy sessions will be weekly for at least a year. At that time, I will assess the extent of your recovery. However, no matter how diligently you work, Mr. Wiggins, your shoulder mobility will never return to normal.”
“That just sounds like doctor talk. So, what’s my choice?”
“If I amputate,” the surgeon continued as though Flatly had not interrupted him, “I can rebuild the shoulder area and prescribe a prosthesis that will provide more mobility in the long run.”
“What you sayin’, man? Say it in English!” Flatly was at a loss to understand the medical jargon and tired of trying.
“I think he means that you have to decide whether you want to keep your arm or not.” Mamba offered his translation.
“At the simplest level, your friend is correct.”
“But, that ain’t no choice!”
“There are ramifications to consider either way,” the surgeon picked up where he’d left off.
“Would you explain it to me in the hallway,” Mamba asked. “I think I can make it clearer to him.”
“I doubt that,” was the aloof reply. “If I do not explain the options to him, I am absolving myself of responsibility of this man’s decision. You are a witness, nurse.” He motioned to Erin Reilly.
She nodded obediently. She knew which of the doctors not to cross. This was one of them. Dear God, help Mr. Mamba survive this ordeal. She would help Mamba explain his options to her patient.
Mamba and the surgeon retired to the corridor. Several minutes passed. Erin read a passage of a new book to Flatly. Mamba returned, alone.
“Help me out, okay?” He nodded to Erin.
“That was my plan all along.”
He smiled his thanks, took a deep breath, and plunged into his translation of the doctor’s explanation.
“If they don’t take your arm off at the shoulder, you won’t be able to move it enough to do many things you’re used to doing.”
Mamba looked to Erin. She took over the explanation.
“Like pushing a door open using only that arm. Like reaching above your head for anything with that arm. Like pulling your pants up with very little help from that arm.” Her voice was gentle but firm.
The boxer stared straight ahead, brow wrinkled in thought, with his lips tightly pursed.
“But, if you want, the doctor can rebuild enough of your shoulder to make a place for an artificial arm to rest. After you learn to use the artificial arm, you’ll be closer to normal.” As she finished she gave the PI a ‘how’d I do?’ look. Mamba gave an affirming nod.
“If the doc cuts my arm off and I gets me a artyfishul one, I’ll only be closer? Not all the way normal?”
“Only closer,” Erin confirmed. “No doctor has enough skill to make your shoulder normal again. It will take a miracle for that.”
There was a moment of silence. Erin’s thoughts ran to how well she’d explained. Mamba’s thoughts were focused on how completely Flatly understood what he’d heard. The boxer’s thoughts centered on the final phrase of Erin’s explanation.
“I walked by a church on a Sunday mornin’ once,” Flatly began, apparently rambling. “I looked inside ‘cuz there was lots of good singing comin’ out of it. Over the stage where the preacher and a bunch of singers was, was a big sign. I asked one of the men taking up a collection of money what that sign said. He tol’ me, ’Expect a miracle,’ just like he really did. I think I’ll go back to that church. I gots me a miracle to expect.”
“I don’t think God works on demand.”
“I won’t be demandin’, Dancer, I’ll just be expectin’. I figure I needs to be in church anyhow, just to say thank you for still bein’ alive and all.”
“That means you’re keeping your arm?” Mamba asked. “You know that means a lot of hard work.”
“That’s a wonderful choice,” Erin exclaimed as she hugged the ex-fighter. “Expecting a miracle is the right thing to do.”
“You think so?”
“I do,” she answered with another hug. When she passed Mamba on her way out of the room, her eyes were bright with tears. Dancer missed that. He was wiping tears from his own eyes with his hand at the time.
* * *
Contrary to Mamba’s healthy decision to walk to his morning destination, Martinez headed to the division station on his usual mode of transportation. As he steered his motorcycle through traffic, he formulated his plan for obtaining the Xeroxed copies he required. His decision was to take three original documents to the station’s copy room and have them copied.
I’ll stay in the room and watch to see that the papers I hand over never leave the room or my sight for that matter. When I get my originals back, I’ll make superficial alterations to them. That way, if the modified papers are removed from the files where I got them and copied elsewhere, the changes I made will show up on the new copies, and any copies of those copies.
A close miss of his bike by a car changing lanes returned his mental focus to his driving. By then he’d decided that he would take pages of three different files and have them copied at offsite copy machines. These copies, what he was calling original copies, would be given to the records division and copied under his surveillance, as were the first set of pages.
Finally, he was going to have copies made by the records division of one of the copied pages of Mamba’s original list and the copy of his phony drug bust plan that the PI had obtained on the street. That should be all the copies I’ll need.
After that I’ll take all the copies I made down to the lab. Brad Finch owes me a big favor. I still have a hard time believing that I agreed to raid the guy’s kid sister’s party to check for dope. Now, I am glad that I did. During my unofficial raid, I uncovered a major on-campus dealer from the Manzanita High School. But, I’m never doing anything like that again, at least, not without backup.
Because Finch is one of our lab techs, he’s gonna pay me back for the raid by comparing all the copies for me.
Martinez wanted to know if the Finch could tell which ones came from which copy machine. He also needed to know if the microscope jockey could tell if a particular copy was a copy of a true original or if it was a copy of an original copy.
The blaring of a car horn and the sound of shouted profanity forced him to abandon any further planning. He shook his fist in retaliation at the driver who had hollered at him and sped off—this time with his full attention on the road.
He skidded into the parking lot and brought his bike to a stop in its usual place, parked illegally in one of the triangular areas at the end of a row of parking spaces. As he climbed off his bike an ironic thought flitted through his mind. Police officers are like everyone else. Given the opportunity, we’ll park as close as possible to the front door, even if it means bending the rules.
Martinez checked in and went straight to the files. He rifled through one drawer and removed an arrest report and a report on an unprofitable stakeout. The second drawer produced two recovered property lists and two physical evidence lists. As an afterthought, he pulled a page from an old logbook. He removed the papers he had tucked in his jacket from his meeting with Mamba and Stallings.
I’ve got all my bait. Tiempo para ir a pescar. It’s time to go fishing. Hefting the small stack of documents, he began his quest.
He gave a wave to Nina in dispatch as he headed for the parking lot. He climbed aboard his bike and roared off. After stops at a supermarket, the library, and the post office to make copies of three of the documents he carried, he returned to the station and headed straight to the copy room.
“Whatta ya need?” asked the young officer behind the desk in the records division.
“Copies,” Martinez answered with a wry grin. He held aloft his hand full of paper.
“What’s the authorization?”
“Sorry. Spontaneous Division Audit. Lucky me won the random drawing to be one of the auditees this round,” he lied. He was proud of his imaginary new requirement. SDA sounded like all the other official alphabet tasks they were assigned.
“I’ve never heard of a spontaneous division audit.”
“Oh, you will,” Martinez promised. “It’s a new program from the Chief’s office. From what I understand, we get to be one of the test divisions for the plan.” He screwed his face up in a comic grimace. “You never know what those guys upstairs are thinking.” This kid’s just about hooked, or he’s gonna call my bluff.
“I think it’s quite an innovative concept. The Chief should be commended. I never understood how they expected to turn up irregularities in departmental policy with announced inspections. That gives everyone a chance to clean house prior to the inspection. Let me see your badge.”
Martinez nodded courteously, smiled inwardly because he’d remembered to bring his badge, and complied by opening the wallet-like folder that held it. Hook, line, and sinker! The officer entered Martinez’s name and badge number into his logbook and waved him in.
Sergeant Edwards stood beside the oversized copy machine. As a veteran of twenty years on the police force, he’d seen many major innovations. Speaking strictly from the standpoint of relieving some of the strain of mundane tasks from the regular officer, the copy machine was the biggest time saver to come along.
Without a word, an uncommon thing for Eddie Edwards, the Sergeant took the papers from Martinez. He scanned the contents of the pages. After the rapid perusal, curiosity got the best of him. “What’re these for?”
“Spontaneous Division Audit,” Martinez deadpanned. After his success at misleading the young officer, he was confident he could field any question Edwards asked.
“Another innovative new procedure, I’ll bet,” Edwards moaned. “How high did this one start?”
“Then I better alert my people. When something starts above the Captain, it’s here for a while. How many copies you want?”
“Two of each, Sarge.”
With a nod, Edwards picked up his logbook and wrote down the number showing on the copier’s counting device when he started Martinez’s job. He added the number of pages to be copied and the number of copies of each page requested in their allotted columns. He also wrote down the date and time.
Martinez was more baffled now than before. He’d been certain that the leak had to be Sergeant Edwards or someone in the Records Division. In fact, his plan sprang from the expectation of finding a glitch in the copy-making procedure that would allow Edwards to make unauthorized copies to sneak out of the station.
This copy log is tight. I can’t see how anyone could beat the copy counter. The Latino’s shoulders sagged.
“Here you go,” Edwards said. “And, buck up. You know better than to take this personally.” He clapped Martinez on a drooping shoulder while handing him his originals and a stack of copies.
Get a grip, Enciso! Man up. This isn’t over yet. He straightened his shoulders.
“Yeah, you’re right. I should consider myself lucky to be a test case. They can’t have all the boxes to check figured out yet.”
“That’s the spirit! Your originals are on top. The copies are in the order of the originals underneath. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Martinez answered with feigned enthusiasm, certain that his grand idea was nothing more than a dead end.
* * *
“You got a second, nurse?” Mamba asked Erin Reilly as the pair left Flatly’s room.
“Not much more than that, but, sure. What’s up?”
“I was wondering about Flatly’s hospital bill. I know the boxing association paid for some of his expenses. But, he’s been in here over a month.”
“It will be seven weeks this Wednesday,” she corrected.
“Wow! Time flies. Anyway, he’s got zero money.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Mamba. It’s all been taken care of.”
“But, that’s thousands of dollars. How?”
“It’s tens of thousands. And it isn’t a how, it’s a who.”
“You’ve lost me,” Mamba admitted.
“One of our donors selects two patients each year. She pays all the expenses for whatever treatment is prescribed for as long as it’s needed.”
“Why’d she pick Flatly?”
“Funny answer,” Erin said with a short laugh. “Her husband is a boxing fan. He saw Mr. Wiggins fight. Did you know his nickname was Kid Wonder?”
“Well, it was. According to the husband, early on it looked like he could be a contender. Then he got hooked up with a crooked trainer. After a couple of fixed fights, his optic nerve was irreparably damaged. He had to quit or go blind.”
“That part I knew about, the blindness part.”
“Anyway, the couple chose to support Mr. Wiggins for what might have been.”
“Still, this seems like a longer than necessary hospitalization.”
“Maybe. But Mr. Wiggins has no one to assist him at home. He also lives upstairs. Until his rehab gets him back to the point where he’s self-sufficient, he’ll be with us.”
“I’d like to thank the donors.”
“Write a note. I’ll see it gets delivered.”
“Thanks.” Mamba stopped and pushed the elevator button. As he stepped into the elevator he said, “You know you’re a very special person, Nurse Reilly.”
The glimpse he got of the look on her face as the elevator door closed was priceless.