Mamba paced in front of his office desk. He’d waited to inform MPD of Reed’s address because of a feeling of uncertainty about his next move. He’d been pacing off and on, in the office and at home, since he’d learned that Reed was back in Manzanita. After miles of pacing, the feeling hadn’t changed.
It’s time to drop the hammer on Reed. I hope Martinez is in the squad room.
He dialed Northeastern Division and requested Detective Martinez.
“I’ve got a lead on the Anderson Pharmaceuticals job.”
“Hold on. Let me get a pencil. Okay, amigo, shoot.”
“One of my CI’s, Reed, you’ve heard his name, is down at the Presidential Hotel in South City. I’m headed there now. If he’s got any of the stolen stuff still around, and I’m betting he does, you can pay him a visit right after I do.”
“We could save you a trip. You know, get there first like the police are supposed to do. You might have heard that’s what we get paid for.” The narcotics officer offered his services with unabashed sarcasm.
“While I appreciate your generosity, I want to be certain that he takes the fall for this one. When you go up to his room, you’ll have him dead to rights. I guarantee it.”
“I like guarantees. I accept your terms. “
“Wait in the hallway outside his room. I’ll leave the room number at the front desk.”
“You can’t trust the desk clerks down there to deliver a message.”
“I know. Look for a long, bright green envelope in the mail slots. I’ll be in the apartment with that number one floor above.”
“Subtle and sneaky, I like it. I’m also looking forward to meeting señor Reed, Gumshoe.”
You like that dime novel term, don’t you amigo? Well, try this term on for size.
“So am I, Serpiente,” Mamba answered. He smiled while he hung up. The sound of the big Latino choking at his use of the Spanish translation of Snake proved to be the perfect retaliation.
After composing himself, Martinez rounded up a couple of the Narcotics boys to assist in the collar of Reed. He was still feeling magnanimous after orchestrating Flatly’s homecoming. He would share the collar.
As he passed the Records room, he glanced inside. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. A man in striped coveralls was kneeling beside the copy machine.
“You guys go on ahead. I’ll catch up on my bike,” Martinez said to his fellow officers and went in to investigate.
“I’m afraid it’s down for a while,” Sergeant Edwards greeted Martinez as he entered the copy area. “Weekly service check.”
“Someone comes once a week to service this thing?” I can’t believe that. Service is sporadic at best for every other piece of department equipment. “That must cost a fortune!”
“Not as much as a major repair would,” the repairman said from his position beneath the machine. “One big bill is more than many small ones. Besides, the department picked up the service contract when they bought the machines. You guys do so much copying that these babies would be shut down with unwanted regularity without this routine maintenance.”
“Could someone take any of the copies that had been made earlier while working on the machine?” Martinez asked.
“No way!” Edwards’ response was immediate. “I’m in this room during every routine servicing of the machine. All service calls occur during my shifts.”
“What about emergencies?”
“I’ve been called in from home. There is a departmental directive detailing servicing procedures for copiers in all stations. The Senior Records Officer must be present during all servicing of these machines.”
“You’re in this room during all service calls?”
“From when the technician arrives until he leaves.”
“What does he do every week?” the Latino asked as he moved toward the machine for a look at its guts.
“Some of it’s pretty technical.” Edwards intercepted the big man and steered him away from the open panel where the repairman was working. “But, mostly it’s cleaning and checking for wear and tear. Let me show you the service manual.”
Slick move to stop me from seeing inside the maching. What are you hiding?
“What’s that big silver thing?” Martinez asked as craned his neck for a better look. It was time to compare what he learned from Finch to a repairman’s explanation.
“This?” The repairman asked as he held up a silver cylinder.
Martinez nodded. It’s the shiny oatmeal container.
“Its the copy drum. The pictures taken of the original document attach to the surface of this. When the drum rotates against a blank piece of paper, that picture is transferred to that paper. That’s the process that you call making a copy.”
“Wow! That’s gotta be hundreds of pictures. How does the machine know which one to make a copy of?”
“It’s not like that. Here take a look.” The repairman held out the drum and continued his explanation. “Each picture is only retained long enough to make a single copy. You know the flash each time a copy is made?” Martinez nodded again. “Well, each flash is a single picture. One picture goes on the drum. The drum makes one complete turn, and—”
“It makes one copy. Es la verdad?”
“Uh, yes. I think. My Spanish is pretty rusty.”
“You got my gist. Hey, thanks for the lesson. I gotta vamoose. Hasta luego.”
Martinez thought about what he’d seen all the way to his motorcycle. After mounting up, he’d decided that he and Mamba would do more than pass each other in the hallway of the Presidential Hotel.
* * *
Mamba performed a perfectly executed California rolling stop at the stop sign at the corner of Garfield and 10th. A right turn onto Garfield brought him within one block of the Presidential Hotel.
The neighborhood had deteriorated even more than he remembered, though he’d not thought that possible. Two teenage toughs leaned against a partially stripped car. Spray-painted graffiti decorated every blank wall space on the block. Debris ranging from newspapers to soiled disposable diapers littered the sidewalks.
He parked across the street from the hotel. It made him feel less contaminated than if he’d parked in front of the building. Out of habit, he checked his watch. It was 12:27 p.m.
He took a deep breath, unfastened his seatbelt, and climbed out of his car. Here we go. He jaywalked across the empty street.
“Good afternoon,” he called when he reached the registration desk. No one answered. He tried again, “Hello! Anybody back there?”
“Pipe down, ya noisy bum,” a gruff voice called back to him. “I ain’t deaf. If you’re in so big a hurry, find another hotel.” A wizened old woman hobbled out from the back of the lobby.
“Who ya wanna see?” she demanded as she limped over to the desk and fixed him with a bloodshot stare. “You ain’t gonna stay here. You’re dressed way too fancy to spend a night in a dive like this. You wear a tie all the time?”
“Every work day,” Mamba said in answer to only the woman’s last question.
She placed a pair of glasses on her nose, stared hard at the PI. “I get you, mister fancy dresser, you want to pay by th’ hour. That it?”
This old woman’s sharper than she lets on. Let’s see how far I get with the truth.
“I’m here to see Reed.”
So much for the truth.
“I owe him some money,” Mamba reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and extracted two twenties and one five-dollar bill. “He got me some merchandise.”
“I don’t doubt that none, folks come and go at all hours with him. What’s this Reed worth to you?”
“Abe Lincoln stays with you for his room number.”
“You must not want him too bad.”
“There’s another Lincoln for stashing this in the pigeon hole I choose.” He produced the bright green envelope and indicated the boxes beyond her head. She turned her head in an instinctive maneuver. With the woman’s gaze diverted, he feigned slipping the twenties into the envelope and palmed the bills.
“Lemme see the money!”
So she’s entrepreneurial, too.
“Here’s Abe.” He removed a bill from his wallet while returning the forty dollars with a second simple slight-of-hand maneuver.
She snatched at the money. He held it out of her reach.
“Room number,” he reminded her.
“Three-fifteen,” she told him. He lowered the bill. She snapped it from his fingers.
“Now put this in the box for two-fifteen,” he instructed as he sealed the flap before handing her the green envelope.
“This thing’s too big for my boxes,” she complained. “Look how it sticks out.”
“Just be sure it stays in that box until tomorrow.” He’d hand over the second five-dollar bill after she’d completed his request.
“It’ll be there, fancy dresser,” she grumbled.
“If I come back here before this time tomorrow and that envelope’s not in box 215, you will get a visit from the Vice Squad.”
“Yeah, yeah. Like I haven’t heard that before.” The woman turned and stuffed the envelope into box 215. She turned back, grabbed the second five-dollar bill, then waved him away.
Mamba climbed the steps to the third-floor landing. He stepped over two crumpled fast food restaurant bags as he turned down the smelly hallway and walked to Room 315. He rapped sharply on the door. When there was no answer, he knocked on the door.
“Go away,” a slurred and sleepy voice cried from within.
As his answer, the PI pounded louder still.
Muffled obscenities became distinguishable as the voice approached the door. A deadbolt turned, and the door opened a slit.
Let the games begin!
The heel of the PI’s right hand slammed into the door. The wooden portal snapped back and cracked the bones above and below the right eye of the man who’d opened it. Reed dropped like a rock.
Mamba stepped over the moaning body and shut the door behind him. He prodded Reed with his foot. The man was stark naked. He clutched a pair of boxer shorts in one hand.
The boxer shorts fell from the apartment dweller’s hand as he rolled onto his back. Along with sights he never wanted to see again, Mamba saw a trickle of blood oozing from beneath the man’s hands.
“Get up!” Mamba directed. “You’re not hurt that bad.”
“Man, my eye is broke,” Reed slurred. Both hands were clamped to his fractured face. He wanted no part of another go-around with the door or its opener. “Who are you?”
“Get up and take a good look.”
Reed struggled to his feet. He lowered his left hand and squinted at Mamba. His eyes closed. He rubbed his left eye with the back of his hand and squinted at Mamba again.
“What’re you, crazy, man?”
“Put your underwear on!”
The order startled Reed into action. He labored as he pulled on his boxers. Thanks to his alcohol-induced vertigo, his first attempt ended with both of his legs in the same leg of the boxers.
“Go, sit on the couch and finish.”
Reed, walking like a woman in a too tight mini-skirt, managed to find the sofa on the second try. He dropped, more than sat, down. After extricating his legs from their shared sleeve, he tried again to put on his underwear.
He encountered a second failure. This time, only one of his legs made it into boxer shorts. He succeeded on his third attempt. Mamba noticed a bloody stain where his right hand still gripped the elastic band.
“Now, pay attention!” Mamba demanded.
Reed leaned forward, a reflex to the tone of voice. As his body tilted, he gave a surreptitious glance toward the bedroom, almost losing his balance in the process.
“Who’s in the bedroom?”
“Jus’ a frien’. She’s okay. Her name’s Rotunda.”
“I want her gone. What I’ve got to say is between the two of us.”
Reed struggled to his feet and staggered toward the bedroom. He had to make a sharp turn to miss the doorframe, the loss of vision from his fast-swelling eye now detracting from his alcohol-limited navigational skills.
Mamba followed him to the bedroom door. When he looked through the portal, he saw a grotesquely overweight female trying to pull a pair of stretch pants over enough hips for two good-sized women.
She managed to get one side of the stretch pants up to where her waist might have been one hundred pounds ago. She closed her pudgy fingers around the other side of the waistband and tugged.
Two things happened.
First, as Rotunda pulled that side of the waistband, the elastic strip crept up her thigh. But every miniscule gain was achieved only after the spandex slipped over each recurring wave of fatty tissue created as the slow-moving waistband dug into her leg. The undulating adipose tissue caused the opposite side of the waistband to move down the same distance at the same pace of each upward gain. After three minutes of pathetic comedy, the waist of the pants was trapped beneath the massive overhang of her stomach.
Second, when she pulled both sides of the front of the waistband in an attempt to breach the rampart of her belly fat, Rotunda lost her balance and stumbled backward. Mamba was grateful that she’d landed on the bed, although he was certain the bed would disagree.
Even though saw a macabre humor in the revolting scene, Mamba didn’t want to watch any more. He scanned the room. The dirty window looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. There was no escape route. All traffic in or out had to use the living room.
“I want clothes on you, too, Reed,” he called as he turned back into the main living area. “And be quick—both of you. I don’t have all day.”
More quickly than he imagined possible, the obese hooker waddled from the bedroom in what Mamba thought might have been an attempt at strutting. He shivered at the thought that she might be trying to entice him. That thought vanished when she made a less than glorious exit from the apartment. She slipped in the blood pooled by the door and crashed to the wood-grained linoleum.
Using the door handle as a fixed point, Rotunda muscled herself upright. Mamba heard her swear as she wiped the sole of her shoe on the dirty hall carpet. He didn’t want to consider what she wiped her bloody hand on.
Reed appeared after his date made her inglorious exit. He was zipping his pants when he got to the chair opposite Mamba. He decided to lay a good, old-fashioned guilt trip on the man.
Reed dropped onto the chair. The PI watched him squirm for a full minute before he spoke.
“I’m disappointed in you. I’d hoped you were on your way back.”
“I am, Dansher,” Reed lied.
“I talked to Father Henry.” Mamba watched Reed’s false bravado evaporate at the name of the priest that ran the turn-around mission.
“I tried,” Reed whined. “I really tried.”
“Bull!” Mamba snorted. “Shut up and listen. I’m here to buy some stuff.”
“Wha’?” Reed almost fell off his chair. After recovering minimal composure, he laughed nervously and said, “I thought you said you was buyin’.”
“I did. Why? You think that’s funny?”
“No. Oh, no!” If anything, Reeds words slurred even more than they had been. “You’re so shtraight you makes a ruler look crooked. What you wants to buy shtuff from me for?”
“I need money. Word has it that you’ve done well recently. I want to buy for resale.”
“This mush be a setup.” Reed narrowed his one non-swollen eye to a slit and studied the private detective that sat before him.
Mamba shrugged at the suggestion of a setup. He stared into the man’s good eye. It was focused beyond him. Bingo! You got a stash hidden in the kitchen.
“Are you going to sell to me or not?”
“Ain’t got none here,” was the mumbled reply as he averted his gaze. “You call me in a couple days and maybe we can work sumpin’ out.”
Mamba offered a second shrug. He rose to leave.
“I’ll get what I came for, Reed. I give everyone one chance. You’ve had yours.”
As the door closed behind him, he nodded to the three Narcotics officers in the hallway.
“The stuff’s in the kitchen, most likely right behind the green patterned overstuffed chair. He won’t give you any trouble.”
“Wait here a minute.” Martinez’s tone let Mamba know it was more than a suggestion.
Sure thing. I’ve got nowhere to go, right? Please make this short.
Martinez pounded on the door.
“Police! Open up!” As soon as heard sounds from inside, he turned the doorknob and shoved the door open.
“Freeze!” was the bandanaed giant’s only word. Reed froze, not three steps away from an open door in the kitchen’s base cabinet. In his hand was a dilapidated shoebox.
“Glove up! I’ll cover this guy.”
Both officers complied. The first to pull on his second glove took the box from Reed’s shaking hands.
“This is what we’re looking for,” the other officer announced. He held up a small container of pills. Anderson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. was emblazoned on the label.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Martinez offered his associates. “You guys do all the paperwork on this and leave my name out of the report, and the collar is yours.”
“Why so generous?” Martinez’s gesture was far outside normal detective behavior.
“I’ve got other frijoles to re-fry.”
Both uniformed officers rolled their eyes, but neither smiled.
“Just leave, if you’re going,” one urged.
“Con gusto. It’s my pleasure. Adios, amigos,” the Latino called as he shut the apartment door.
“Everything go okay in there?” Mamba asked when Martinez turned away from Reed’s door.
“No hay problemas. But it was muy difícil, and I do mean difficult, to walk away from a slam-dunk collar.”
Mamba nodded. He understood. The importance of recording a clean collar for a detective was hard to overstate.
“Thanks for waiting,” Martinez said. “I know you weren’t planning on that.”
“It’s all good. I’ve got something to report to you, anyway. It’ll save us another meeting.”
“You’re not counting this as a meeting?”
“Nope. You may consider this a coincidental conference in a hallway,” Mamba said.
“Good, because I’m not a big fan of meetings.” Martinez smiled. “Let’s hear it, Gumshoe.”
“Yours first. After all, Serpiente, this coincidental conference was your idea.”
“Okay. Enough with your gringo Spanish.”
“On one condition.”
“Maximum of one Gumshoe per week from you.”
“You’re okay, you know that?” Martinez grinned.
“So, I’ve been told . . . by some. I’m still waiting for your big news.”
“Right. Did you know that the copy machine down at the station is serviced weekly?”
“Well, it is. And, get this, Sergeant Edwards is present, by departmental directive, during all service and repair work,” Martinez explained.
“So? It sounds like a good way to prevent unauthorized copying to me.”
“If Edwards is our man, he could be sending information out with a bogus repairman. He even gets called in from home when emergency repairs are made. It’d be muy fácil—and I’m talking easy as pie—to fake a breakdown whenever important information was copied. Then he could pass it on to the repairman to sneak out.”
“I suppose that’s possible. But how does he get the copies he passes? I’ve watched. What the heck, you’ve probably watched. There’s only one set that comes out of that machine.”
“That’s the stumper,” Martinez said with furrowed brow. Then the famous, or was it infamous, Martinez grin appeared in full bloom. “But I have a plan to check it out.”
“Why am I not surprised?” The sentence could have been either a comment or a question.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence. You want to hear the plan or not?”
“Sure. Just listen to my news before I forget about it.”
“Fair enough. I know how it is with you older folks’ memories.”
“Ha, ha,” was Mamba’s retort. “The boys from IA paid me a visit.”
“¡Esos culebras! What did they want?”
“It took them long enough.”
“Not quite long enough, though. And, I’m certain that they know that I know where he is.”
“But they don’t know where he is, correcto?”
“Then, we still have the advantage. Does Stallings know about that visit?”
“You gonna tell him?” Martinez asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Neither do I.”
Both men lapsed into silence, their thoughts roiling. Mamba spoke first.
“Tell you what. You ride with me, and I’ll listen to your plan for how to track the copies on the way to my office,” Mamba offered.
“No can do. I had to ride my bike here,” Martinez responded. “I found out about Edwards and the service policy on the way out the door of the station. I sent the others on ahead.”
“Okay. But, and don’t let this go to your head, I want to hear this plan of yours.” Think. What’s close where can we meet? “How ’bout this? There used to be a kind of rundown coffee shop over—”
“Over on 9th. Right?” Martinez finished Mamba’s thought.
“That’s the one.”
It wasn’t long before the two men sat as the only patrons in the small, rundown coffee shop. Stallings’ situation was moved to a back burner as Martinez filled the PI in on his plan.
* * *
It was one of those eerie coincidences. A coincidence that would make most people think differently about the space/time continuum if they knew the frequency at which they occurred. Franklin and Lizbeth Stallings sat on the Mambas’ patio at the same moment Martinez and Mamba talked in the hallway outside Reed’s hotel room. The eerie part was that the Stallings’ conversation would have fit into the middle of the two men’s dialog.
“Frank,” Lizbeth Stallings said to her husband. “I think you should consider turning yourself in to the police.”
“You’ve been running or hiding for long enough. You need to come forward. I know Phil can clear you. Can’t he?”
“It’s been more like too long,” he corrected. He does have evidence that supports my innocence, but I’ll only go back if they’ll listen. By now, the jackals in Internal Affairs must be hungry for a taste of my blood. IAD is out to get cops they think are bad. Once they’ve made up their mind, they don’t listen to reason.”
Lizbeth looked away from her husband, her face an enigmatic mask.
“I promise to go back as soon as we find the real leak.”
“What if you don’t find that leak?” she whispered as she turned toward him.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get off. I am innocent.” He reached out and intertwined his fingers into hers. “Trust me?”
“Always.” She raised their hands and kissed his.
* * *
“It’s far from the greatest plan ever conceived, but it’s better than winging it,” Mamba said to Martinez as they walked from the coffee shop back to their prospective modes of transportation.
“For having only minutos to plan, my plan is exceptionally exceptional,” Martinez insisted.
“You know you’re delusional, right?”
“You gonna follow the plan or not?”
“How could I not follow an exceptionally exceptional plan? Meet me just outside the Records Division door.” Mamba unlocked his driver’s side door as he finished.
“It is you, amigo, who will be meeting me there,” Martinez retorted. He lumbered the last five yards to his motorcycle.
* * *
A familiar motorcycle sat parked illegally in one of the triangular areas at the end of a row of parking spaces. I don’t know how he does some things he does, Mamba thought as he exited his car. I was afraid I’d get ticketed more than once on my Mr. Toad’s ride here. He still beat me!
Mamba joined Martinez in the hallway as planned. They entered the records division in tandem. Martinez checked in as required.
“You got any coffee?” Mamba asked the young officer behind the counter. The plan hinged on persuading this individual to leave his desk.
“None here,” was the dejected reply. “Closest is down in homicide.”
“That’s appropriate. I’m about ready to kill for a cup.”
Martinez shook his head. Holy moley, Mamba, I’ll bet you can’t say two sentences in a row without including what you think is a devilishly clever phrase.
“Me, too,” the officer agreed.
Martinez tossed a look in Mamba’s direction. It was up to the PI to sell their fabrication as fact.
As though he’d received the telepathic directive, the PI leaned across the counter and spoke in conspiratorial tones.
“You know, if I stayed here and kind of kept house while you hurried down to homicide, you could rustle us both up a cup.”
“I can’t leave my post, sir.”
Great! We’ve got us a Dick Tracy on duty here.
“Yeah. And I can’t get into homicide without my pass. I’m undercover and never carry it with me.” Mamba wrinkled his brow, then raised his eyebrows and asked, “What if you had to use the restroom?”
“Well, I would tell Sergeant Edwards,” the rookie receptionist recited as though going through a mental checklist. “Then I would go down to the facility and return as rapidly as possible.”
Tossing the baited hook . . .
“Might you stop for a cup of coffee on such a trip?”
Setting that hook . . . Now!
“Okay, then. I’ll stay here. When someone comes in, I’ll explain that they have to wait for you to return. That’s better coverage of your post than during one of your normal breaks.”
The rookie officer nodded his agreement to the plan and headed out the door.
While Mamba engaged the officer at the counter, Martinez went around the counter to see Sergeant Edwards.
“I tell you, Sarge, this spontaneous division audit gets more complicated every day,” the Detective complained.
“Now they want the complete case record from my first arrest. Something about comparing my work as my career progressed.”
“You’re telling me you need the entire file copied?”
“Come with me,” Edwards directed. “We’ll round it up pronto. You know I’m all for quality control, especially with all the negative press we police departments get, but sometimes I think our administrative level has too much time on its hands.”
“Si. Es la verdad. That is so true.”
As soon as the two men disappeared in the stacks where boxes of case files were stored, Martinez threw a final look over his shoulder. Mamba nodded and entered the copy area. With the receptionist busy getting coffee and Edwards back in the files, he was free to pursue his assigned role in the Latino’s plan.
He pulled a small set of tools from his pocket and extracted a thin, stiff wire from the leatherette case. Working quickly but carefully, he sprung the lock that held the access panel of the copy machine closed. He swung the panel open and looked inside. What he saw explained the leak.
Nobody’s going to believe this. I can hardly believe it, and I’m looking at it. I wish I had a camera.
There were two metallic cylinders inside the bowels of the copier and one tray that held an uneven stack of photocopied pages. He imagined both copy drums capturing the same image and each making a copy of that page every time the light flashed. As a result of the setup, one flash generated two copies, and one of the copies was unknown to the person that requested it.
He gave a quick look to see if anyone had entered the room unannounced. When he saw it was clear, he removed a different tool from his kit. He placed the edge of the tool on the surface of one of the drum he reasoned made the requested copies for the department and gave a quick twist. He smiled at the hole in the smooth, silver face of the copy drum. The sabotage complete, he closed the access panel.
He was standing by the receptionist desk when the rookie returned with two steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee.