Anthony Garmel was at his desk. Instead of working, he was wishing for the arrival of fall in his hometown. It was a muggy September day in Chicago. He was tired of heat and humidity that refused to accept that it was the end of summer. Give me multi-colored leaves and a chance for a dusting of snow anytime.
“Mr. Garmel, there is a call waiting on line one.” The secretary’s voice came through on the intercom.
“I’ve got it, thanks.” He picked up his handset. “This is Garmel.”
“Mr. Garmel, this is Rick Elkhart. I worked for Sidney Brewster out in Manzanita, California, until, well, until his unfortunate demise. I’m sure you know about that.”
Elkhart. Brewster might have mentioned him. This guy’s seriously nervous.
“Yeah, I heard about Sid. Brutal way to end your life. Tough luck, I’d call it. What makes you think you need to call me?”
This isn’t going like I’d hoped. He thinks I want— Face it, you have no idea what Garmel’s thinking. Just get it over with!
“There is a problem developing out here,” Elkhart continued with his planned presentation. “No one man is ready to take charge of Mr. Brewster’s operation. I’ve taken over the lion’s share of the leadership. I don’t know if you have someone in mind, or if you’re thinking of splitting the territory. I don’t want to see all our—that’s Mr. Brewster and me—all our hard work go down the drain.”
“I’ve gotten reports from out there,” Garmel mused aloud, but his thoughts were less general. You’ve got moxie. I’ll ease your mind a bit, but you still are going to have to earn the promotion. “Your call confirms the presence of a problem, as you put it. What’s the position of the police?”
“As far as I can tell, we’re still getting the information you’re paying for. But the inside man says he wants to renegotiate his deal with the new boss.”
“I don’t do that sort of thing,” was the rock-hard response.
“I tried to explain that, sir. He said he would wait and see.”
“So, what do you want me to do?” Garmel asked.
“It’s not my place to give orders, sir.”
Well played. That’s one mark in the positive column of your Possibility Of Promotion chart.
“I’m asking for your advice, Mr. Elkhart. What do you think should be done?”
“Well . . .” Rick had considered what advice he might offer, but only as a hypothetical scenario. He never anticipated being asked. The best he had hoped for by placing this call was to get his name in the mind of the syndicate’s head. Go big or go home.
“If you came out here and met with the guys that are fighting, I think that would settle the question the quickest.”
A viable plan. Two marks in the positive column.
“And if that can’t be done?”
“Mr. Garmel, the organization’s in trouble without a visit.”
“I see. I can’t lose an entire operation. Give your number to my secretary,” Garmel instructed. “You can expect a call within the week. Be ready to pick up two passengers at the airport soon after that. And set your meeting up after my call. Make sure it’s not long after my arrival.” He switched Elkhart back to his secretary with the press of a button.
Garmel sat for several minutes with his brow furrowed in concentration. It had been over five years since he had planted his man in the Manzanita Police Department. He was pleased to hear that he was still getting the service he desired. He was not pleased with the reported developments.
There would be no renegotiation on any issue with anyone from Brewster’s operation. I might have to bring in a man from elsewhere to replace Brewster. Before that, I’ll give Elkhart enough rope to hang himself.
He swore softly and wished for his old friend, Gene Marcotti. But Gene was three years dead, killed in that war with the competition down in New Orleans. He swore again. Bringing in another man would only slow things down. He decided to wait and hope that Elkhart would continue his rise to the occasion.
* * *
Martinez hated hospitals. Not in the sense that he didn’t approve of them, he’d spent enough time in the ER from job-related activities that he knew it was better to be treated for an injury sooner rather than later. It was being in the hospital that he hated.
Visiting the hospital was tolerable, but being admitted for any extended time, which he defined as longer than overnight, was intolerable. Getting released from the hospital was light years better than being admitted into the hospital.
At the moment, he waited a short distance from the elevator for Erin Reilly to wheel Flatly down for his release from the hospital. The ex-boxer had selected him to be his ride home. That choice provided him with the opportunity to set up a welcome home reception in Flatly’s building.
The sound of a bell announced the arrival of the often-sluggish vertical delivery system. The elevator door opened. Nurse Reilly backed out, pulling the boxer in a wheelchair behind her. She spun the chair in a graceful arc while she said something to her charge.
“Hola, amigo,” Martinez called down the hallway. “You look pretty good.”
“Hey, Cue Ball,” Flatly answered. “I’m better than good.”
“Are you the person to whom Mr. Wiggins is being released?” Erin asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Martinez answered with appropriate decorum.
The trio moved down the hallway. Their final destination was the curb where a car Erin had never seen was parked.
“What’d you feed your motorcycle to grow it into this?” she asked as they cleared the hospital door.
“Funny. You don’t want to know what it’s costing me to use this car.”
Erin shrugged, but she stayed with the wheelchair until Flatly’s seatbelt was secured in the passenger’s seat of the car. She gave Martinez a wink and sauntered away pushing the empty wheelchair before her.
“You know she gots the hots for you, right?”
“You want to walk home, amigo?” the big man threatened without conviction.
I like your laugh, little man.
As Martinez maneuvered his borrowed car carefully through traffic, Flatly announced dryly. “You ain’t never got to worry ‘bout gettin’ no traffic ticket. I been in buses moved faster than this.”
“I borrowed the car,” he offered lamely.
“Actu’ly, ain’t no never mind to me. This still beats layin’ in that ol’ hospital bed. And no matter how long it takes to get there, I’m goin’ home.”
“Here we are,” Martinez announced as he parked at the curb. “Remember, you can’t call me Cue Ball anymore like you did sometimes back in the hospital.”
“Oh, yeah. I keep forgettin’. You not mad, are ya?”
“Not mad at all. But I have to be careful. You remember how it is when you’re undercover.”
“I surely do,” Flatly replied in all sincerity. “I gots to make sure not to out my partner.”
“Thanks. You need help getting out?”
“Naw. I can make it.”
“At least let me get the door.” Martinez opened his own door and waved to his accomplice inside Flatly’s building.
In response to his wave, a dozen people materialized at the foot of the stairs. Little Marvin, the unwitting savior of Flatly’s life, held a sign that read “Welcome Home.”
The boxer’s eyes went wide with amazement as he rounded the front of the car. Folks waved and called out encouraging remarks until he arrived at the stoop. That’s when Flatly’s amazement turned into shock.
Marvin’s mother stepped forward and offered a pie she baked. The landlord presented Flatly with a certificate good for three months of free rent. Other neighbors offered various services.
Waldo Wiggins stood open-mouthed. Usually people ignored him or at best tolerated his presence. These people acted like they were glad to see him. I gots me neighbors now!
He wiped a tear from his eye, as did Martinez. And the people on the stoop.
* * *
After IAD left his office, Mamba had been tempted to hotfoot it down the Presidential Hotel. In fact, that had been more than a temptation—he made it all the way to his car before he decided to return to his office.
He’d spent the past hours sorting, sifting, and rearranging ideas and facts in his mind.
I know I should have gone to Flatly’s homecoming. With IAD turning over rocks, we’ve got to clear Stallings’ name ASAP.
No matter how often he changed the order of his ideas and facts, those two thoughts consistently ranked one and two.
* * *
Chief Rogers sat, as was his habit, listening to a piano concerto on his stereo. He should have been relaxing, swirling brandy in a crystal snifter. But, the concerto was not one of his favorites, he was far from relaxed, and his crystal snifter was empty.
It had been a schizophrenic time for him. On the positive side, a drug organization that had plagued Manzanita for years was down and out, at least as far as the media was concerned. Lieutenant Mulligan, who’d been shot execution-style, was making a miraculous recovery, and TV ratings of his press conferences were at an all-time high.
On the negative side, two issues cast their shadows on his leadership. Evidence and testimony during the takedown of that drug operation exposed an information leak to the public. Bad publicity like that would take serious politicking on his part to overcome. Not only that, rumors abounded about who besides the citizens of Manzanita might benefit by the downfall of the reigning drug lords in the city. The rumors were non-specific at present. Rogers was smart enough to see what implications might be accumulating.
In the once positive/now negative column was his relationship with Petula Jacobs. What had started with unbridled passion and far different intentions on his part than hers had degraded on both sides. Badly. All recent interactions had been business. Well, not all recent interactions; there had been that one night . . .
He shook his head. Don’t let emotion and hormones deflect you from the problem. Tomorrow, I will neutralize the one negative that I control completely.
He picked up the phone and left a message on the machine his administrative assistant checked the first thing every morning.
* * *
It was 5:30 p.m., not a late end of a workday for many people. For Officer Petula Jacobs, it was thirty minutes past her scheduled time of departure. While a rarity, getting off late was not unknown for Jacobs. What was a rarity was the fact that she had no idea why Chief Rogers had left a voice message that morning directing her to remain after hours.
He’s been distant for a while. I don’t mind that. In fact, I’m glad he realized that I’m as much over him as he thinks he’s over me. This meeting must be nothing but departmental business.
She checked all her regular end of the day to-do list items—for the fourth time. The coffee maker was clean. The shredder was empty with all contents of that device bagged in a sealed plastic pouch for secure disposal. The mini-fridge was restocked with sodas and water. The platters for serving pastries were stacked with a note attached indicating that they needed to be washed and that the pastries still in the box from the donut shop were for the custodial crew.
She straightened the individual stacks of items on her desk. Two sets of meeting agendas and a complete set of blank officer evaluation papers with the names and badge numbers of the officers already typed in were ready for completion. The Chief opened the door between the two rooms in his suite.
“Jacobs, I’m ready to see you in my office.”
That was all.
Petula shifted to high alert status, her earlier thinking undermined by Rogers’ tone. Just what is going on, flashed through her mind as she walked past the man and into his office.
After she’d seated herself and Chief Rogers had done the same, an emotionally-charged thirty seconds of silence passed before Rogers spoke.
“You will do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it, or I will bury you,” Rogers spat the sentence out one word at a time.
Jacobs paled. She ran a quick review of her recently assigned tasks. The only thing he can be talking about was one phone call I forgot to make.
Rogers chose to ignore the evidence of her mental machinations and continued with only slightly less bite to his words.
“Regardless of your perceptions, our relationship does not exist outside your mind and your bedroom.”
She stared at him. So much for departmental business.
“Surely you realize by now that you’ve been nothing more or less than a pleasant diversion from reality for me,” the Chief continued.
And vice versa you pompous— She exhaled the breath she’d been holding. Get a grip. Making him mad’s not going to help matters. I’ll pretend to reason with him.
“But, Dwight, all I did—”
“I don’t give a buffalo’s butt what your rationale is! You’re this close to being fired. Fired. Do you hear me?” he roared as he held his thumb and index finger less than an inch apart.
Petula’s mind raced. She recalled two other instances when Dwight Rogers had yelled at her. The first was when she’d neglected to return the socks he’d left after one of their romantic interludes until two days past that evening. The second was when she’d tried the newly made key to the private entrance to his office without asking permission.
Those were irrational rants. This must be one, too. And, how could I not hear you, you moron. I’ll be surprised if everyone passing by in the hallway hasn’t stopped to listen to your screaming.
“And, after I fire you, if you go any news outlet, who will they believe if you try to use our affair to smear me?” Rogers continued his tirade but at lower volume and closer proximity. “If you think they’ll take your word over that of the Chief of Police, well, Officer Jacobs, you’ve got another think coming!”
You blustering fool, Jacobs mentally shot his way. Every night we spent in my bed is on its own videotape. I changed out those videotapes each morning after you’d slunk away like the feral cat you are. If you take me down, you’re going down, too. Down in flames!
“Get out! And when you come in tomorrow, I expect you in uniform slacks, not a skirt!” He dismissed her with an emphatic hand gesture.