Petula lounged on the full-sized bed in her motel room in Thousand Oaks. It was early in the afternoon after she’d overheated Chief Rogers’ shredder during her final hours with MPD. She’d packed lightly. A carry-on bag was the sole piece of luggage to be seen in the room.
She checked the time on her watch and walked out of the motel parking lot. After crossing the street, she stepped into a phone booth, opened her purse, and removed the electronic voice distortion device. Holding the device in place as she had in the police station, she prepared for what she expected to be a profitable few minutes.
I’m glad I ordered one of these electronic gizmos after I listened in on one of Dwight’s conversations with Stallings. It paid for itself last night. Now it’s time to accrue some return on that investment.
She inserted her first quarter. Her plan was to start three consecutive phone conversations with the same instruction.
“For once don’t talk. Just listen to me.”
“You know I’m under house arrest. They’ve probably got this line tapped,” Rogers said without emotion.
“I’m using a payphone. And, you probably noticed my voice is altered. And, what part of ‘don’t talk’ are you having trouble understanding?”
“What do you want?”
“The direct approach. I’m proud of you. I guess I can forgive your vocal indiscretions.”
“Just get on with it. I can do without sarcasm right now.”
“Too bad. I’m not in the mood to alter my prepared remarks. Here’s what I want. First, my name’s not in any of your testimony. Not a single word about me. If you slip up, I’ll see that dozens of videotapes are released to the police with copies to the media.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know. April Fools!”
“And, don’t try to be funny. I not in the mood for that, either.” Rogers grumbled.
“Oh, funny is far from what I am being. I’m prepared to expose you, actually expose all of you, in very compromising positions if I even sniff a reference to me in any report. I have sources—inside sources.”
Rogers sat silent.
She must have videotaped all our nights in her bed. She sold me on videoing the second one for the beauty of the act and how she wanted a complete sensual recollection. What a crock! It was her rehearsing the lighting and camera angle.
“What’s the matter, Dwight? Cat got your tongue? You really didn’t think I’d do all I’ve done with and for you and not have my very attractive derriere covered, did you?”
Rogers maintained his silence. Too late, he realized that the woman was as hard as diamonds. He’d seriously misjudged her capabilities.
“Oh, my! You never even considered a woman might be smarter than you, did you? Well, then, this serves you even more right than I thought. Goodbye, Dwight. Don’t forget your instructions.”
Rogers sat holding the phone in complete silence for well over a minute. He knew that his administrative assistant had him by the short hairs. About that, he had mixed emotions. On the one hand, he hoped they’d traced the call and would soon arrest her. On the other hand, he knew if they did find her, she’d bury him so deep that he’d need a ladder to get up to the bottom of his grave.
He could think of only one outlet for his angst. He swore loudly.
* * *
“For once don’t talk. Just listen to me.”
The faint crackle of background static was all Petula heard.
“Well done. Much, much better than my former boss. You and I have never spoken before, but I have eavesdropped on your conversations with my boss. So, I apologize for the first phrase of my opening comment. As a reward for good behavior, I’ll get right to my first point. They’ve arrested Rogers. I have no doubt he’ll go state’s evidence. Your name will be included in his testimony for a deal with the Feds.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I want you to protect me.”
“Because I know who you are, Mr. Anthony Garmel. And, I know that the police know about Gar-Mar, Incorporated.”
Static crackled in her ear a second time.
Good for me. That was a surprise to the man.
“I’ll need an army of Ulysses S. Grants to ensure adequate protection. You will supply that army.”
“How big an army?”
“It’s negotiable, but I’m thinking in the neighborhood of 600.”
Garmel did a rapid mental analysis. Thirty thousand. This woman has some nerve. If what she says is true, that amount of money is a bargain. If it’s not true, I can find out whom she is and where she is, and eliminate her for much, much less.
“I don’t have all day, Anthony. My neck’s on the line here, too. Or should I call you Tony?”
Petula sensed she hit a nerve with the nickname.
“Give me a routing number, and twenty-five thousand dollars will be wired to that account within two days.” Garmel’s voice sounded like it was delivered through tightly clenched teeth.
“Shame on you. That’s not 600 soldiers. It’s not even a year’s pay, and the timeline for the deposit is too long.” She did some calculating of her own. “It now appears that I’ll need an army of at least seven hundred Grants to protect me. So, the deal is thirty-five thousand. And you have one day to make the deposit, or you’ll be reading your name, and this phone number, in the newspaper before Rogers testifies.”
She’s even tougher than I gave her credit for. Smarter, too.
“I have a counteroffer for you,” Garmel said.
“I’m listening, but not for long.”
“How would you like to work for me?”
Petula Jacobs’ laughter was loud and genuine.
“Fine, thirty-five thousand it is. But, if I ever hear from you again . . .” Garmel made sure his tone of voice activated the darkest side of the woman’s imagination. You’d better get serious now, woman. You need me much more than I need you.
“Don’t worry,” Petula said after she’d caught her breath. “You won’t. If I were you, I’d be looking for the best price for airline tickets to a far away place tonight because I’d want to be out of the country within thirty-six hours.” She shifted to her best impersonation of a telephone operator and added, “Please hold for my banking information.”
* * *
“For once, don’t talk. Just listen to me.”
“I do not know who this is.”
“Oh, my. Another Dwight Rogers, aren’t you?”
“Do not play games with me.”
“No games. But, you’d better listen, Mr. Anderson, or whatever your real name is.”
“And, you had better have some crucial information for me. Otherwise, your smart mouth will cease polluting the air with words very, very soon.”
“The police will know a lot about you, very soon.” How do you like a taste of your own medicine?
“Why do you think that will happen? It would take a stupid man to do something so stupid.”
“Save it! Chief Rogers is going states evidence tomorrow.”
“Rogers is under arrest.” There was no hint of question in the words.
“You figured that out all by your lonesome. Maybe you’re smarter than I thought. I want thirty-five thousand dollars from you.”
“Listen, you arrogant—”
“No! You listen! I have transcripts of dozens of calls to this number and one other number that I’m betting is on your phone bill, too. I made the calls. I made the transcripts. I control what happens to those transcripts.”
This woman is living very dangerously. But, if what she says is true . . .
“What am I buying with my thirty-five thousand dollars? If I decide to pay you?”
“I think you’ll pay. You might even consider what I’m selling a bargain.”
“I’ve heard nothing yet that is worth even the time I’ve already spent on this phone call.”
“I’m calling your bluff, Anderson. I think my transcripts are worth a whole lot of money to a man whose company makes drugs when the local drug lords are all in shambles right now.”
This woman knows more than she’s telling me.
“No sale without knowing what I’m buying.”
“Sounds fair, although I’m not sure your definition of ‘fair’ is the same as mine. I want ten thousand dollars for this warning to you. For the record, I’d say I’ve already earned that much. And, twenty-five thousand more for all the things I’ve done for you that you don’t want law enforcement to know about.”
“In case I’m losing you, that would be the transcripts. Twenty-five thousand dollars purchases all my memories of you and your dealings with Rogers.”
“And your hard copies.”
“Ah, I love a man who listens. For being a good listener, I will include all hard copies of the transcripts I have in my possession for that price.” Let’s see if he’s really listening.
“You’re the contact with MPD.”
Ohhh, a diversionary tactic. The game’s afoot!
“Not exactly, and I’ve just posted a No Fishing sign on this conversation. However, since you’ve given me what I assume is your best guess, let’s just say I’ve been privy to many of your conversations and leave it at that.”
“If I’m hearing you correctly, it appears that I’ll be traveling soon. If that is true, I cannot spare that amount of cash.”
“I figured you’d try to negotiate. Last offer: thirty thousand dollars total in cash and a fake passport in the name of Ilsa Jurgenson. Take it or leave it.”
I can get a passport for less than a grand, and she sounds quite capable of leading the authorities to me, even if I accept her offer. She phrased her answer about the transcripts cleverly, implying she has copies that are not currently in her possession. It’s only money, and I will find her if she reneges on her promises, perhaps even if she does not.
“Since you’ve been so considerate, I’ll take it.”
“You may pick up the money and passport, without a photograph, of course, tomorrow at—”
“I’ll call back in an hour and talk to your secretary. I’ll give her the details for the drop.”
Before Guillermo Arcenas could reply, the telephone line went dead.
* * *
On the morning after Jacobs contacted Arcenas, something more than the usual rumors spread through Reed’s cellblock. One of the guards found a dead body in Reed’s cell.
“Are you certain this is the prisoner?” the Warden asked.
“Yes, sir. We’ve double-checked. All we can find for his name is Reed. There’s no other name in any of his paperwork.”
“I know,” the Warden replied. “We checked his prints with every known source and found no arrest record in any of them.”
“That can’t be right,” the Senior Prison Guard objected. “Just look at the guy’s body. If that doesn’t scream ‘addict’ I don’t know what does. He should have been in the system years ago.”
“All I know is what we didn’t find, any other name for these fingerprints.”
“I guess it really doesn’t matter,” the guard said. “Dead is dead whether you have one name or five names, like my German Lutheran grandmother.”
“Very philosophical. I’ll get the Coroner out here. Try to keep a lid on this.”
Five days later, Reed was laid to rest. Phil Mamba supplied a headstone. The headstone was small and flat. The inscription was simple.
Master of the Tenor Sax
* * *
Former Police Chief Dwight “Buck” Rogers sat in stone-faced silence in interrogation room 5, the largest of the interrogation rooms in MPD’s Central office building. Two officers guarded the door, one in the hallway and the other inside the door. Manzanita District Attorney Ellis Winston, an FBI agent, and now acting Police Chief Jeffery Ellerbe sat across the table from the man. DA Winston was explaining Rogers’ options.
“Mister Rogers, we are willing to grant you certain immunities from prosecution for your cooperation,” the D.A. said emphasizing Rogers’ soon-to-be civilian status.
“What do you mean by cooperation?” he asked without expression. He was aware that his career was finished. The folder that held the report from the Internal Affairs investigation lay open on the table before him. It was disgustingly complete and one hundred percent accurate. His major concern was protecting himself and his family from the revenge he knew would be forthcoming from at least one of his illicit employers if he talked.
“We want names and dates and transactions. We want to know everything you did for them, what you got for doing it, and who you did if for.”
“If I agree to do this, what are your plans for my safety?” As a veteran of law enforcement, he already knew the answer to his question. What he needed was the assurance of hearing that answer spoken directly to him.
“You’ll receive witness protection,” the second of the three men facing him answered. The FBI Special Agent had been authorized to offer a relocation and new identification for appropriate testimony. “The government needs your help. A new life for you and your wife in another place is on the table.”
“Would I get to choose my new place to live?”
“Not hardly,” the Special Agent snorted. “If, in our opinion, what you give us is worth enough, you’ll get the usual choices that we give anyone we enroll in our witness protection plan. In most cases, it’s a choice between two cities of our selection.”
“All right,” the disgraced Chief agreed. Rogers had made his decision long before the interview began. He knew that his chances of surviving in prison were nil. Any conditions imposed by the government were preferable to being shanked in prison with who knows what atrocities done to his wife. “Where’s my contract?”
“You know that’s not the way this works, Rogers,” Chief Ellerbe, said. He was angry that Rogers had lied. Now he was even angrier because, in spite of overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the man was still his arrogant self.
Rogers turned toward his former underling, but said nothing.
“We need to hear the information first. The whole deal holds only if you provide appropriate, verifiable information,” the Special Agent said, intentionally drawing Rogers’ attention away from his former assistant.
“So, are you in or out? I’m tired of waiting!” The DA’s tone of voice left no doubt about how close Rogers was to nixing his deal by delaying the inevitable.
“You’ll get all I know. Start the tape recorder.”
The headlines in the local papers over the next few days followed the resignation of Police Chief Rogers. Some reports implied a connection with the underworld. The name, Anthony Garmel, head of the Midwestern branch of a drug syndicate, was linked to the man from as early as his days as Assistant Police Commissioner in St. Louis. Information leaks were also hinted at as part of a major local scandal.
However, neither the name Petula Jacobs, nor the title administrative assistant escaped Rogers’ lips during his extensive recitation.
It seemed ironically appropriate that as much information as was reported on Rogers’ downfall managed to find its way to the media—on radio, on television, and in the local papers.
After all, the departmental leak had been sealed.
* * *
“All of them, Mr. Garmel?” The man in the expensive suit found his employer’s last instructions difficult to comprehend.
“I want none of the regional managers in the present operation to remain,” Anthony Garmel replied. He stopped packing his briefcase. “I cannot afford another Chief Rogers.”
“But, we don’t have any evidence that Rogers talked,” the expensive suit insisted.
“Never leave a loose end,” counseled Garmel. “If Rogers didn’t talk, all this house cleaning will do is cost me replaceable people. I’ll be back in operation within three to six months. If he did talk, I figure to be out of business in the United States for a couple of years.”
The expensive suit nodded sagely. I get it, Mr. Garmel. I, too, am replaceable. “You can count on me, sir.”
Garmel ignored the expensive suit’s promise. He continued as though he’d not been interrupted. It was an action that did not escape notice by the expensive suit. “Speak only when spoken to” was the boss’s mantra.
“If the others are not silenced and decide to talk when arrested, I could be a fugitive for life. Even worse, I could be incarcerated.” Garmel glared hard at his well-dressed associate before he added a meaningful conclusion.
“I relish neither perpetual flight nor imprisonment for any length of time.”
“I understand. All potential problems will be eliminated within the week,” expensive suit said, knowingly violating Garmel’s mantra.
“One week. No more. I’ll be in South America,” Garmel finished as he snapped his briefcase closed. “The only contact I will have in the immediate future will be through my secretary.”
* * *
Rick Elkhart never got a chance to prove his business acumen or his loyalty to the syndicate.