Guillermo Arcenas, owner of one of Manzanita’s major employers, sat at his massive desk. Behind him was a colossal credenza. Enormous bookcases dwarfed an art print that hid the door of a wall safe. A bank of file cabinets mirrored the bookcases on the opposite wall. An oversize conference table and six king-sized, leather-covered chairs completed the imposing décor. He was holding a telephone handset in his right hand and punching in a phone number with his left.
The room was always under-lighted. Those admitted to his office were never allowed an adequately illuminated look at any part of it. He followed the same precaution with his personal information. Acquaintances and friends were granted minimal access to details of his life.
Those invited to his office lost any sense of superiority when they sat on chairs designed to keep the feet of all but the longest-legged visitor dangling at least half an inch off the floor. The massive pieces of office suite furniture and the inadequate illumination combined to generate a sense of insecurity in all but the most confident visitor.
Only those who gained Arcenas’s trust ever met with him outside this office.
He was born in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico and raised in the home of Martín Arcenas, the jefe of one of the largest drug cartels in that country. Sent to America as a youth, he was groomed by his surrogate parents for the position he now held.
No one in California knew he’d legally assumed his mother’s maiden name, Anderson, before he obtained his U.S. passport. Also unknown was how he’d entered the United States illegally, crossing the U.S./Mexico border stuffed behind the back seat of an old sedan.
The man was a bonafide citizen of the United States as William Anderson. He was also a citizen of Mexico under his birth name, Guillermo Arcenas.
In reality, Anderson and Arcenas were light and dark reflections of the same image. He’d been careful to make certain that the glow of legitimacy from Anderson’s persona as the respectable drug manufacturer masked the shadowy actions of his alter ego, Arcenas.
“I need a disposable asset,” Arcenas, said into the phone.
“Most of the junkies in this area have hitched their wagons to Garmel’s syndicate,” the feminine voice on the other end of the line said.
“I don’t want excuses. When this is finished, Garmel, if he’s still a player, will be trying to find new users because we’ll have them all in our wagon.”
“Okay. When and where shall I have someone make contact?”
“Tomorrow night. At the factory office. Call me with information on your selection. I need to customize the place for his arrival.”
“It might take a couple of hours. The beat cops are all at a training session on how to deal with the homeless.”
If quiet has emotions, this silence was most unhappy at that news.
“As soon as I have a name, I will call,” Petula Jacobs promised. “Do you want Rogers to know?”
The click of the handset contacting the cradle concluded the conversation.
“I’ll take that as a,” Petula informed the dial tone.
* * *
Arcenas was still in his office. He’d told his wife that he had to take an important call there. She’d been pouty, but he’d make up for his perceived gaff by bringing home a bauble for her. The phone rang. Arcenas answered.
“The guy’s named Reed,” Petula said.
“First name or last?” the boss asked.
“Far as I can tell, that’s it. Just Reed.”
“Presumptuous of him.”
“If you say so.” I’m pretty sure this Reed has no clue as to the meaning of that word. “The guy’s a musician. Pretty good from what I’ve heard. But, that’s only when he’s not high, which isn’t all that often.”
“Sounds perfect,” Arcenas said. “What time will he meet me?”
“You want him delivered.”
“Is that a question?”
“No. You want him delivered to the factory office. That’s the only way I’d say you have a chance of getting him there on time.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?”
“I have some materials to stash in Mr. Reed’s residence. Call me in a month.”
As was his preference, it was Arcenas’s handset that hit its cradle first.
* * *
Arcenas and Reed stood outside the office door of Arcenas’ factory. They’d been standing there for almost ten minutes while Arcenas tried to explain his expectations of Reed. I don’t think I’m a centimeter closer to him understanding than I was when I started. Keep it simple.
“If I’m hearin’ right, you wants me to . . . uh, to break in and steal some drugs from your factory. That about it?”
“In a crude way, yes. But, you won’t really be breaking in. I’ll make it look like a break-in for insurance purposes. You just have to go through the jimmied door. And you’re not really stealing. I’m giving you whatever drugs of you want. After you’ve got the drugs, leave through the same door you came in, and go home.”
“And par-tay!” Reed did a mini happy-dance.
“If you wish,” Arcenas said. “Now, listen carefully. This last part is critic— very important.”
“I’m listenin’.” Reed scrunched his face into what he considered a look of concentration.
Arcenas shook his head in disbelief. He knew the drugs he sold, whether via prescription or illegally, were addictive. Until now, he’d never seen the ultimate end of addiction up close. It was disgusting.
“I’m going to report the robbery to the police.”
“What? I ain’t goin’ to no jail for not stealin’ somethin’. No way! I’m out!”
“Your only way out, Mr. Reed, is to die,” Arcenas’s tone was granitic. “You will do exactly as I say, or the police will find out who stole my merchandise. And, you will go to jail for a long, long time. Is that clear?”
“I hears ya. But I thought you said you was givin’ me . . .” Reed’s voice trailed away. Figuring he’d heard the man wrong, he said, “Tell me what I’m doin’ again. Okay?”
Arcenas complied. After a final review, he escorted his disposable asset to the factory employee entrance. He pulled latex gloves on both hands and handed Reed a pair.
“Put those on. I want the police to spend time and effort on this investigation.”
Without waiting, Arcenas picked up a sledgehammer from its resting place beside the sidewalk and took several swings at the door before it finally popped open.
“Mi casa . . . es su casa.” Arcenas’s invitation was punctuated by a gasp of air as he caught his breath.
Reed looked confused.
“Go and get your drugs,” he rephrased without emotion or shortness of breath.
Reed took a first hesitant step, then shuffled across the threshold and over to a stack of containers filled with pills.
Arcenas turned on his heel.
“Give him ten minutes, then call for him to come out. Do not—I repeat, do not go in after him. If he’s still there in twenty minutes, he’s on his own.”
It was not quite midnight.
* * *
William Anderson lay on his back on his side of the California King-size bed in the Spanish style bedroom in his villa in Las Piñas Estates. Las Piñas was the most desirable, and expensive, community in Manzanita. Those who lived there had lobbied, and received, a distinct zip code. Mail to that community was now addressed Las Piñas Estates, CA.
He looked at his wife. She was nearly fifteen years his junior. She had been a bombshell when they married. Time and the malaise that was her life had taken its toll. He frowned and pulled the sheet up over the dimpling in her bottom. That’s a far cry from the firm fanny that I fondled during our courtship.
He looked at the clock on his nightstand. The number 5:57 changed to 5:58 as a tile flipped down to reveal the numeral 8 beneath it. No more than three minutes before showtime. He returned his gaze to the ceiling.
The phone rang.
“I’ve got it, sweetie,” he whispered to his wife as he picked up the phone and climbed out of bed.
“Yes?” Arcenas said doing his best imitation of a man just awakened from his slumber.
“This is Jameson, down at the factory. I’m sorry to call so early, sir, but there’s been a break-in.”
“Something wrong, Bill?” his wife asked.
“It’s the factory,” he replied covering the phone’s mouthpiece with his hand. “I’ll take it downstairs. Just hang up when you hear me tell you to.”
He handed the phone to her and hurried downstairs to the den.
“Okay, Sweetie. I’ve got it.”
“Oh, good. I’m not ready to get up yet.” The distinctive click of the phone handset being placed on the base unit was clear. Anderson picked up his conversation with his factory foreman.
“Don’t touch anything. And, whatever you do, don’t let anyone in the building. We want the police to have the most evidence they can find.”
“Yes, Jameson, what is it?”
“Two of us have already been in the building.”
“I see. Well, don’t go in again. And keep everyone else out! I’m heading down there now.”
“Do you want me to call the police, sir?”
“No!” Anderson realized he’d over-emphasized that directive. “I mean, don’t bother. I’ll call the police after I’ve seen the damage.”
The pharmaceutical mogul left a note for his wife, hopped in his Mercedes, and drove to his factory. He conducted a cursory inspection as soon as he arrived. That satisfied his foreman and verified what he already knew.
“I’ll take it from here,” he said. He entered his office and phoned the police.
* * *
Two weeks passed without an arrest in the Anderson Pharmaceuticals break-in. Arcenas was pleased. After all, an arrest was something he’d helped delay. He decided enough time had passed to warrant the hiring of a private investigator. When looking for someone to do a job for him, he always began with the M’s in the phonebook. It was a nod to his biological father’s given name.
Mamba Investigations was the top name on the list.