“What’s the latest on our most recent disposable asset?” Guillermo Arcenas asked into the phone while leaning back in his chair in his personal office.
“Nothing different from before, sir. He spends most of his time drinking, chasing women, or doing drugs.”
“Then things are going just as we’d planned.”
“It appears that way, sir. As a bonus, our sources report your idea of staging a second robbery has the police sniping at one another.”
“Excellent. Call me only if there is a significant change in what we’ve just discussed.”
“Por supuesto, señor.”
“English only when we’re on this phone number.”
“My apologies, sir.”
* * *
It was late in the afternoon. Martinez had just arrived back at the station after taking his turn on a surveillance team. He was tired. He was disappointed. He was just about ready to take a punch at someone.
To avoid doing something that would end up as an enormous blot in his personnel file, he was wandering the hallways of the station in an unplanned pattern. He had time to kill.
Finch, his buddy in the lab had told him that it would be 5:30 p.m. before he would have results on the copy comparisons. He checked his watch. Even though it was only 5:08, he decided to head down.
How bad is this? I’m heading to the police lab early on purpose. ¡Madre de Dios! I need to take a vacation. I should already have this information. It’s Finch’s fault. He’s the one who pushed my timeline back!
Feeling a bit better after deflecting some of his angst to the lab tech, Martinez barely paused at the door to the lab. After clearing the doorway, he stopped and watched as the laboratory technician picked up the copy of the evidence list from the arrest of Oscar Briggs.
Finch placed the paper on his most powerful dissecting microscope. He studied the page for a matter of seconds before his eyebrows rose in an expression of confirmation. This is from the same machine that the page of names was copied on. He looked at the clock. It was 5:12. Not bad. Finished before my self-imposed deadline.
“Hola, amigo. Mind if I come in?”
“I should make you wait until 5:30,” Finch said. “Lucky for you, though, I just finished.”
“What’s the verdict?”
“I’ve numbered the pages you gave me.” Finch indicated the neat rows of paper on the table before him. When Martinez just nodded, he added with more than a hint of condescension, “You might want to write this down. It gets a little complicated.”
“This whole deal’s complicated. Why should this be any different?” The Latino sighed.” You got any paper?”
“First drawer on the right.”
He grabbed a blank sheet of typing paper and pulled a pencil from the orange juice can that served as a pen and pencil holder.
“Before we get too far, I need to ask: Do you know how a copy machine makes a copy?”
“Sure,” Martinez said. “You put a file on the glass. You push a button. There’s a flash of light and some noise, and a copy comes out in the little tray.”
“That’s what you see happen. How did the copy get on to the paper in the tray?”
“I don’t have any idea. Magic?”
“Almost,” Finch admitted knowing he’d have to stat at square one. “You’ll need to listen carefully, take notes, and ask questions when you don’t understand, or—”
“Or, I’ll never be able to explain to anyone else what you’re going to explain to me.”
“Very good. Or, should I say, muy bien?”
“You ready?” He asked.
“All righty, then. Inside most heavy-duty copiers, there’s a cylinder about the size of a large oatmeal container. That cylinder is called the copy drum. Photostatic images attach to the surface of the cylinder. Every time the drum rotates, an image is transferred to a piece of blank paper.”
“Photostatic. It means that an image that contains ink adheres to the drum by static electricity. Like a photograph’s negative.”
The drum! That’s how the copies are getting out!
“Do the images stay on the cylinder?”
“No. The image is retained long enough to transfer it once—a single copy. Each flash you see is a picture of the master being taken. It’s transferred to the copy drum for one turn of the drum.” Finch stopped. As he finished he held up one finger for each point he made. “It’s one picture, one turn of the drum, one copy.”
Ay! I thought I had the way the copies got out of the station. Just take the copy drum when you leave. But, that one turn/one copy process shoots my theory full of holes.
“So I couldn’t steal the drum and get all the copies that had been made on it?”
“Nope. Each new photo replaces the pervious one. You good so far?”
“I think so, at least in terms of understanding the process. Keep on going. I’ll let you know if you lose me. I’m not shy.”
Finch rolled his eyes. Shy was the last adjective he would use to describe Martinez. I’ll just keep this moving.
“I assume you know that all the copies you gave me came from the same machine.”
The big man nodded, but asked, “How do you know that?”
“Every copy machine has its own signature. See these faint lines traversing the page at an angle?” He pointed to the paper beneath the powerful magnifying lens. A polite nod provided the expected answer.
“All the copies, that is the papers you had in your pile labeled that way, were produced by the same machine.” He paused before asking, “The one in records?”
“Es la verdad,” Martinez almost whispered. The remark was unexpected, although it was a reasonable assumption. I’d better get my A-game in gear.
The lab technician raised his eyebrows at the response.
“Right on,” the giant translated loosely. “Sorry. I thought you might know some español. You know after your muy bien earlier.”
Finch shook his head. Muy bien was about the extent of his non-food item Spanish vocabulary. There’d be no more español from him.
“The original copies, as you call them, were from four different machines. Three of them are each from a different machine. I might say very poor quality machines. The other two pages,” he paused and handed them to Snake. “These two are both from the same machine, originally.”
“What do you mean by ‘originally’?” He was impressed. The evidence list and Mamba’s list of names were the only ones from the same copier.
“Well they were first copied on the same machine, the one in records. That machine has rolled paper. You can see the uneven lower edge of the paper in the subsequent copies because the original copy wasn’t quite a perfect eight and one-half by eleven inch page.”
Martinez examined the proffered documents. I’d never have noticed the traces of the uneven edge. He made a little click noise with his tongue and cheek.
“You’re sure that these two are from the same copier?” Martinez asked anyway.
“Besides the lower border of the paper,” Finch answered with an offended tone to his voice. “There are the signature lines I told you about as well. Those aren’t the same as the lines on the copies made in Records.”
“Yeah, I see those.” Martinez’s excitement level spiked. If I can find a copier whose signature matches the one on those pages, I’ll have plugged the leak. “Finch, amigo, we are even. You don’t owe me nada. In fact, I may owe you.”
“Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” Finch’s precise scientific brain had reached its limit of Martinez-isms. He wanted one straight answer.
“As soon as I know,” Martinez promised. “As soon as I know.”
Martinez was at a full sprint as he barreled through the door of the lab and into the hallway outside it. He was glad that he’d pushed the meeting with Stallings and Mamba back. The new information was worth any delay!
Finch was left waiting for his one straight answer.
* * *
Reed surveyed the scene around him with intense satisfaction. The party was going strong. The apartment wasn’t large, but it was a palace compared to what Reed was used to inhabiting. There was plenty of room for drugs, booze, and women.
He was grateful for Mr. Anderson’s generosity. The take from the first robbery of the drug company had set him up for a time, but he’d been nearly drained when they’d delivered him to the pharmaceutical lab the second time. While he had no idea how they found him in a dive in Atascadero, he hadn’t even blinked at the chance to score a second time.
He’d done nothing but think about what to steal on the trip from Atascadero to Manzanita. He was sober enough to remember that he’d taken drugs that he preferred during the first heist.
The second time he’d left the lab with much more profitable merchandise. That’s how he’d scored this fine apartment and enticed the people currently occupying the living room.
At the moment, he was surrounded by a dozen of his associates. There was a party going on, and he, Reed, was the host.
Seated to his immediate left was an immensely obese woman. Her makeup was thick and her dress would have been barely appropriate on a much thinner person. The fact was, most of the females in her line of work were much thinner. Rotunda, as she was known on the streets, catered to a class of clientele that preferred blubber to bones. Reed licked his lips as he looked at her. She shifted her bulk to reach for another handful of finger sandwiches. His pulse began to race.
“Let’s blow this joint,” he suggested.
“Not just yet,” she told him. “There is still a lot of good food here.” She took an enormous bite of the sandwich stack and leaned forward as best she could. A roll of her oversized body got in the way and foiled her efforts to reach the beverage she desired.
“Be a Sweetie and hand me a beer, will ya?” she mumbled with a small burp. “And not one of those lite ones, either.”
Reed complied. He grabbed a second can of the beverage for himself, popped the top off, and took a mighty swig.
“Let’s dance!” Shouted of one of the partygoers.
“Sounds good to me,” Reed called back. He wobbled toward his stereo. The half-dozen, more or less, beers he’d consumed were beginning to show.
His collection of record albums was first-rate. He was a jazz aficionado, but he also had samplings of several international artists of various genres. Fate directed his fingers toward one of the foreign records. He pulled it out and turned the album until he could read the cover: Favorite Mambos of the Portuguese.
Mamba! The name exploded through his alcohol-dimmed perception. He groggily recalled a private detective who’d helped him get out of town when he was afraid of the heat from Brewster. He burped and formed one of his few complete thoughts, The Dancer be all over me b’cuz o’ this scene.
“Where’s the music?” bellowed from a dimly lit corner of the room.
“Get a grip. It’s comin’,” Reed called. He placed the record on the turntable. What do I cares about Dancer Mamba, anyway?
An awareness of movement behind Reed caused him to turn around. Rotunda had managed to hoist her bulk to her feet. She stood behind him, tugging ineffectually on one side of her dress where it had ridden up. It was caught between a roll of abdominal fat and her thickly padded pelvic bone. In spite of her dilemma, she had a look of satisfaction on her crumb-littered face.
“If you’ve got the money, honey,” she offered. “I’ve got the time.” A toss of her massive hip set off a series of reactions. Few parts of her body did not jiggle, wiggle, or wobble after the effort.
Reed was shaking with anticipation as led her waddling form from the living room to the bedroom of his small apartment. As he passed his liquor cabinet, he grabbed a bottle of Gallo’s Vin Rosé.
* * *
Mamba and Stallings sat talking with coffee in hand in Mamba’s office. It was 7:45 in the morning. They were early. They had learned to be on time or early for an early morning meeting with Martinez. He became less reliable at meeting appointment times as the day wore on.
“Hola, amigos. Have I got some news from the lab.”
I don’t know, do you? Shot through the minds of both early arrivals. Neither chose not to verbalize the jibe. It was too early to get a true read on the giant’s current state of mind to take a chance.
“Good or bad?” Mamba asked.
“Pretty good, Gumshoe, at least, so far. I’ve got some things for you to see.” He held up a fist full of documents.
“Spread ’em out,” Stallings invited. “I’ll move my coffee.”
Martinez obliged. Soon the desk was littered with the copies and originals he had given the lab tech to work with. Taking a deep breath, he began, “Let me explain. First, I had those papers I took with me from here, and some others from my files, copied by Sergeant Edwards on the big machine he uses.”
“So I could have a copy from his machine and get copies made of those on other machines.”
“I’m not sure I’m following,” Mamba admitted. He looked at Stallings.
“In all honestly, Detective,” Stallings said. “I feel like I’m listening to one of the adults in a Charlie Brown animated holiday show.”
Martinez’s lack of understanding was glaringly apparent on his face.
“You know,” Mamba assisted by performing his best muted-trumpet impersonation, “Wah, wah, wah.”
“Next time just say you don’t want details.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Stallings said. “The devil is in the details. Just save them for the IAD boys when they sink their teeth into this investigation.”
“Okay. Fine. These copies are all traceable to the copier that produced them. Finch, he’s in our lab, explained that each machine has a signature that it leaves on each copy made on it.”
He showed the men the faint tracings on the each of the copies from the machine in the police station.
The information had real potential for tracking the leak. Both men sharpened their focus.
“The real problem is how the first copy of our originals is being made,” Martinez continued. “The original papers must be leaving the station because the copies that were on the street are not from the departmental copier.”
“If all you’ve told us is accurate, then I agree,” Stallings said without looking up from the papers on the desk.
“Oh, what I said is accurate, but I don’t know how the documents get out,” the Latino admitted. “In fact, I can’t even speculate on how that might happen. I watched the copying process yesterday. I watched like a hawk looking for a meal. There’s no way the originals can slip out of the security routine that Records employs.”
“Could the originals have been removed from files at a later time?” Mamba asked.
“Maybe. But, remember that the copies sometimes appeared on the streets within hours of their arrival at the station. It would take several people working together throughout the station to pull that off.”
“Well, then, what about different security procedures at different times in the Records Department?”
“Again, maybe. If that’s true, though, the people down there would have to know when the information they wanted to leak was coming.” Martinez sighed. “All I know for sure is that it has to be someone with access to police records.” He sighed again and added, “We’ve known that all along.”
“Sounds like Sergeant Edwards,” Stallings offered.
“Not necessarily,” Mamba disagreed. “It could be anyone that works in that division.”
“I still think that Edwards is our suspect primero. Anyone but the Sergeant would have to circumvent his scrutiny, too. Edwards runs a tight ship.”
“Point taken,” Mamba admitted. “Or, is the ship only tight-looking?”
Three stone faces sat contemplating the potential of the last question asked.
If there was a conspiracy within Edwards’ division, they had more to worry about than information on police tactical plans getting out. When the negative thought evaporated from his mind, Mamba jump-started the dead conversation.
“Okay, so all we’ve got, which isn’t that much, points to Edwards. But don’t forget, gentlemen, that various people, even those in this room, have been certain that both of you were the leak at one time or another during this investigation.”
* * *
On the afternoon of the inconclusive meeting between Stallings, Mamba, and Martinez, Lizbeth Stallings finished her fifth reading of Farmer Grover to Jimmy Mamba. She put the boy down for his second nap, which usually was just long enough for Hope to not quite get to sleep before he woke up. Since Hope wasn’t trying to sleep today, Lizbeth figured the boy would sleep until dinnertime.
“Oh, well,” she said to her reflection in Jimmy’s mirrored closet door. “I sleep at the far end of the house.”
She heard the front door open and close. Figuring that could mean only one thing, she went downstairs as fast as her sluggish chemo-body would allow.
“So, how’d it go?” Lizbeth ambushed Hope who had collapsed in her favorite easy chair after her visit to the family doctor.
“You were right. The rabbit died,” Hope answered with a smile that grew and grew until it covered her face. “How come you, who’ve never been pregnant, were all over me being pregnant, and I, who already has one child, didn’t catch on?”
“I want to be pregnant,” Lizbeth said. She turned away as she began to cry, choking out words that knifed into Hope’s heart. “You d-didn’t even think of p-pregnancy because you just f-figured it would h-happen when it h-happened.”
Hope stood, waited for a bit of nausea to pass, and went to her friend. She wrapped her arms around the sobbing woman.
Life is so unfair. I’ve almost died twice, but I have a son and I’m pregnant again. Lizbeth is full of life, in spite of her circumstances and may never be able to have any children.
Hope waited for Lizbeth to finish her catharsis. Her arms fatigued, but she continued to embrace her friend. Finally, Lizbeth took one deep sup-supping breath and removed Hope’s arms from around her.
“Thank you,” was all she said. It was more than enough.
“How do I tell Phil?” Hope asked.
“I’d skip the rabbit part,” Lizbeth said with a twinkle in her tear-reddened eyes.
Hope laughed out loud.
* * *
The Monday after Martinez’s report on the copy machine and it’s operation, Mamba sat in his office at Mamba Investigations. He was early. The coffee, sluggish leftovers from the Friday before, was stale. His mood was poor and trending to bad.
After a final attempt to gag down a swig from the cup of the bitter, caffeinated beverage masquerading as coffee, he made a beeline to the restroom. He didn’t go to use of the toilet but to rinse the contamination from his mug. He watched each drop of the cream-and-coffee mixture circle the sink as though waiting its turn to enter the drain and escape through the sewer.
As the dregs gurgled out of sight, Phil rinsed his mouth to cleanse the unwanted aftertaste. Then he rinsed the carafe for the coffeemaker, filled it with fresh water, added a filter full of grounds, and started a new pot.
The phone rang. A glance at his wrist revealed the time to be precisely eight o’clock. He picked up the call before the third ring.
“Mamba Investigations. This is Detective Mamba.”
“Anderson here. Mr. Mamba, I’m going to require your services again. As you undoubtedly know, those hoodlums struck my factory again the other night. The police were nowhere to be found. And, once again, they still have no suspects.” He stopped the tirade long enough to catch his breath.
“I have filed a complaint with the Chief of Police. Protection and a guarantee of safety is what the police are supposed to provide for all citizens. I am not being granted those services.”
“I’m willing to go back to work for you, Mr. Anderson. I haven’t closed out your account. But, before I agree to anything, I want you to recall that I had no more success than the police with the first break-in.”
“Quite the contrary actually. It is my understanding that you were responsible for obtaining a rather lengthy list of suspects and turning it over to the police. As I see it, they dropped the ball there, too. It’s just another example of the ineptness of the local authorities.”
“The police do a fine job far more often than they get credit for. It wasn’t their fault—” Get a grip. You almost told a civilian about— Wait! What was that about a list?
“I’m sure the police are competent in their own way, for routine matters,” Anderson intoned. “This is a special situation and I want a special person working for me. You may have carte blanche this time in terms of your investigation. Your methods during your previous time of employment convinced me of your capabilities.”
“Thank you, Mr. Anderson,” the PI replied in a carefully modulated tone. Something wasn’t sitting right. His mind raced.
Last go ’round you balked at half the cost of a lab report. What was stolen for you to grant carte blanche in the investigation?
“I’ll get back on the case right away.”
“Of course you will. I’ll be satisfied with a written progress report every three days. Goodbye, Detective.”
“Goodbye, sir.” Hmmm, only one demand this time. Something is starting to smell rotten, and we’re not in Denmark.
Before he hung up the phone, he called Hope.
“Vacation’s over. I need you back in the office.”
“Oh, really. Starting when?” She knew why she puked and dozed off with disgustingly irregular regularity, She wasn’t sure why he wanted her back now.
“Tomorrow, day after at the latest. I’m back on the Anderson Pharmaceuticals case, and you know how he loves his reports.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she offered the most neutral response she could come up with. I should have told him I’m pregnant. I need to tell him I’m pregnant, but not on the phone. Tonight. I’ll do it tonight.
“That it is. See you tonight. Give Jimmy a hug for me.”
* * *
Days morph into nights that emerge from their transformation as days once again. Nowhere is this less evident than in the mind of a comatose individual.
Research indicates that many of those suffering from comas are aware of varying amounts of what occurs in their presence. Yet, no studies have been released that show how much awareness of the passage of time, if any, those individuals retain.
On this particular day, Mulligan emerged from the unconscious state faster than in the past. He remained rigid this time. He had no desire to risk another bout with the pain, at least not until after he did some heavy thinking.
The last thing he remembered was listening to a conversation by two people. He thought they were a man and a woman. He was certain that he knew them. What he was not at all certain of was what to call either one.
He took stock of what he did know. He reviewed the events that had led to this situation. At the recollection of a gunshot, a new train of thought emerged from the dark tunnel that was his memory.
Am person was shot? Shot by gun would hurt. Could be why I have pain. If I hurt bad, the all-the-time sounds in right ear could be sounds from place hurt people live . . . no, stay. If I in place where hurt people stay, person should be close to help me. I will . . . um . . . do thing so person help me.
He couldn’t remember what to call the place where hurt people stayed. He couldn’t remember what the people who worked there were called. But, he remembered that they dressed in white clothes.
The most important part of his plan required that help arrive before the pain caused him to black out.
He began by moving his left arm. He managed to bend it completely at the elbow with only a hint of pain. After waiting until he felt no pain again, he slid his left hand toward his right arm. He wanted to find out what was preventing it from moving. When his blind groping encountered a plastic tube, he grasped it firmly with the fingers of his left hand.
This not part me. I will . . . um . . . hold, no, pull it. He took a deep breath and yanked on the IV lead. His yank was more a tug than a pull, but it accomplished the desired result.
The noise of an alarm filled his right ear. He relaxed. The plan was working.
“Any doctor!” an intensive care nurse called over the paging system. “Report to room eight-zero-two. This is an alarm response!” The message was repeated.
Three white-clad figures raced toward the door of Mulligan’s room. As they entered they saw the figure on the bed holding an IV tube in his left hand. One of the doctors grabbed the Lieutenant’s left arm. He unfolded the man’s fingers and removed the needle-tipped tube from his grasp.
“What’s going on?” the nurse asked.
“An involuntary spasm,” the second doctor diagnosed.
“Maybe not, Dave,” the doctor who’d removed the needle from Mulligan’s grip still held the man’s hand as he spoke. “I’m getting an irregular pattern of contractions from this hand.”
“Not uncommon in coma patients,” Doctor Dave said.
“No, wait. It’s not irregular. It’s a repeating pattern!”
“Let me feel that,” Dave exchanged places with his compatriot. After holding Mulligan’s hand for several moments, he announced, “I concur. It is a pattern.”
The first doctor moved close to Mulligan’s good ear. Leaning down close to the patient’s head, he instructed, “Mr. Mulligan. If you can hear me, squeeze the doctor’s hand until I tell you to stop.” He waited.
I don’t know doctor. I know hand. Squeeze? Oh, that is this.
“Stop,” he commanded after five seconds. He looked at Doctor Dave with questioning eyes.
“Just like you told him. It looks like, or rather it feels like Mr. Mulligan is on his way back to us.”
* * *
The evening of Mulligan’s hand squeeze, after the dinner dishes had been placed in the dishwasher and the Frank and Lizbeth Stallings had, at Hope’s request, gone to bed early—very early. She and Phil had double-teamed Jimmy to bed. Now, they sat beside one another watching Wheel of Fortune.
This shouldn’t be as hard as I’m making it. Phil’s talked about children. I was ready to tell Walter about my pregnancy with Jimmy on the night he died. I just need to do it.
“Cows have no heart,” Phil said.
“It’s the answer to the puzzle. Pat said it was a phrase. Based on the letters turned by the lovely Vanna White, my answer is, Cows have no heart.”
“Phil, answers to Wheel of Fortune puzzles are not meaningless phrases made up by slightly demented private investigators sitting beside their pregnant wives in front of their TV sets in Manzanita, California.”
Before she’d finished her thought, Phil’s head jerked in her direction.
“You’re pregnant?!” was his combination question and explanation.
“That’s great! How long? When did you know? Is it a boy or a girl?” Phil fired questions at her at much more than a conversational volume.
“Hold on,” she said as she pressed her fingers to his lips stemming the flood of queries.
“Everything okay down there?” Franklin Stallings called from the landing at the top of the stairs. “We heard shouting, and we—”
“I’m pregnant! I mean, Hope’s pregnant, and I’m gonna be a dad. Again!” Mamba hollered. “Come on down, and we’ll celebrate.”
“Phil, I think you forgot someone.”
“The reason you’re a dad again,” she prompted.
“Oh, thanks. And bring Jimmy since I probably woke him up.”
“You’re just terrible sometimes,” was Hope’s exasperated summation. She called up the stairs, “Tell Lizbeth she should come, too.”
“Way ahead of you, Hope,” Lizbeth said. “I’m already on the stairs. And, it’s about time you told him!”
* * *
Throughout the next week, Mamba was busy. He checked and rechecked the Anderson Pharmaceuticals plant as he searched for evidence the police might have overlooked.
Particulars of the crimes rolled around in his mind. Each acted as one tiny steel ball rolling around the cardboard with the clown’s face on it. As always, his goal was to fill all the holes with its own ball at the same time.
This case was as frustrating as trying to complete that task. On a positive note, he felt like he had more balls in the holes than still rolling around. I’m missing something. I feel so close.
Time and time again, Reed’s name came to mind as he recounted a particular piece of evidence or remembered a name from the list he’d delivered. He decided that it was time to check on the progress of Reed’s rehabilitation.
“Is Reed there?” he asked the person who answered his telephone summons. “This is Phil Mamba calling long distance.”
“Reed?” the voice questioned. “Hold on, please.”
“Phil, how’s it going?” A strong male voice greeted the detective after a moment of silent waiting.
“I’m doing pretty well, Father Henry,” he confided. “Can I talk to Reed?”
“Not gonna happen. He left us, oh, must be at least two months ago. I figured you knew.”
“Two months? I did not know that.” After mentally berating himself for not checking on the alcoholic long before this, he asked, “Where’d he go?”
“For parts unknown. I got the impression that he was not pleased about the selection of beverages we offer here at the mission.”
“That, unfortunately, does not surprise me. Reed likes his booze.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“Probably. But, I can’t be certain with Reed. How much do I owe you?”
“I’ve still got some of the money you wired before your friend arrived. He wasn’t here that long.”
“Keep it. I know it’ll be put to good use.”
“God bless you, Phil.”
“Thanks. Blessings and prayers are always appreciated, Father. Put in a good word, okay?” As he replaced the receiver on the hook, the last little ball fell into the clown’s nose in his mind. He flipped through his Rolodex file until he found the name and number of one of Reed’s known associates.
I hope she’s not in jail.
“Tell me where Reed is,” he demanded when the receiver was picked up. “Now!”
“Who wants t’ know?” was the sassy rejoinder.
“Dancer Mamba. Ring any bells?”
“Yeah,” the voice replied with diminished confidence. Dancer had busted her when he was a cop. She knew he would find out where Reed was sooner or later. She knew where Reed was, and if she didn’t tell Mamba, she could imagine what the ex-cop might have in store for her. “I remembers you.”
“He gots a place down in South City.”
“His own place?”
“That’s what I hears.”
“South City’s awfully big.”
“He be livin’ on Garfield Street. I thinks maybe even the Presidential Hotel. Leastwise, that’s what I hears.”
“Okay. But, if you’re lying, you will hear from me again,” Mamba promised as he hung up the phone.
He knew the area known to locals as South City. Originally one of the more fashionable parts of town, it was now a breeding ground for illegal activity of all types.
The Presidential Hotel. It figures. The place had run down so far that it was nothing more than a house of prostitution with hourly room rates. He did not want to go there.
“Phil,” Hope called over the intercom. “There is a police officer here to see you.”
“Send him in,” Mamba instructed. Anything’s better than a trip to Garfield Street.
A woman in a tailored outfit strode through the doorway.
“Desantos,” the officer bit off her name as she flashed her badge. “Internal Affairs.”
“What do the boys— I’m sorry. What do the officers in IAD want with me?” Mamba asked.
“We know you were back in Ohio with Sergeant Franklin Stallings about five weeks ago.”
“I was in Ohio,” Mamba admitted. The timeline in the question convinced him that IAD had finally gotten around to investigating Stallings. How many officers are you investigating that it took five weeks to get to an AWOL Sergeant?
“Sergeant Stallings is on unauthorized leave from the department,” Desantos intoned. “And we have reason to suspect him in the leaking of confidential information. He is a fugitive.”
“As far as I know, unless IAD has filed charges, Stallings hasn’t been charged with any crime,” Mamba amended Desantos’s explanation. I take it back. A trip to Garfield Street is better than this. “What do you want from me?”
“I want to know if you know his whereabouts now.”
“I have no idea where Stallings is right now,” Mamba confessed. Snide thoughts flashed through his mind: I left the house before Frank and Lizbeth were out of bed. Where they are at this moment is anybody’s guess. They could be in the yard or the kitchen. They might even have taken a drive to the coast. It’s like I said, I have no idea.
“If you say so.” The IAD Officer’s tone of voice implied the PI’s answer was suspect in her mind.
She held out her business card, and added, “If you do hear anything of his location, give the department a call. That card has both the Division number and my extension.”
“Officer Desantos,” he said as he accepted her card. “I promise that you will be the first police officer I contact if I hear where Sergeant Stallings is.”