In the weeks that followed Chief Rogers’ statement, police in cities from California to the Mississippi River reported finding dead bodies of known or suspected drug dealers. Rick Elkhart was among the confirmed identities. A spokesperson for MPD reported the body count was evidence that a major drug kingpin was cleaning house. In spite of the disdain for the former Chief among the rank and file, many acknowledged he finally manned up in the end.
One month after Rogers’ departure, Jeffery Ellerbe, the newly appointed Chief of Police called a meeting of selected personnel. The Chief, Franklin Stallings, Enciso Martinez, and other officers from the Narcotics Division were the attendees.
Phil Mamba was invited in an observational capacity.
After Ellerbe completed his opening comments, he called Mamba to the front of the room.
“Mr. Mamba— Dancer, I can’t call you Mr. Mamba. Not even at an official event. We worked together too many years for that. How about just Phil?”
“That works, Chief.”
“Okay. Let me start again. Phil, it has been brought to my attention by both Sergeant Stallings and Detective Martinez that you logged a great many billable hours working with this police department during the course of a drug investigation, a search for a missing officer, and tracking down the source of a leak of sensitive information to criminal elements.”
Mamba sent an evil-eye stare in the direction of Stallings and Martinez. Both men were focused on their new Chief. I will get you two. I know you’re sneaking looks over at me while you pretend to listen to Ellerbe.
“It is my understanding that one hundred percent of those hours were performed pro bono. Is that the case, Phil?”
What did he just ask me? “I . . . uh . . . ”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’ Although I’ve been on my new job less than four weeks, I have discovered several things about my predecessor. First, he really liked pastries.”
Snickers all around at that comment.
“Second, he was very, very good at hiding funds in officious sounding accounts that had no link to actual police business. While I’ve found no records of how that money was expended, I am assuming that it went for his pet projects.”
What on Earth does this have to do with me standing up here in front? Mamba shifted his feet nervously.
“I’ve also heard from our financial office that Officer Petula Jacobs also had more than one such fund. As you all know, Officer Jacobs, Rogers’ administrative assistant, went missing the day Chief Rogers made his statement to the District Attorney. She’s not been heard from since. Her car was located in a long-term parking lot in LAX, but there is no record of any Petula Jacobs flying out of LAX, or purchasing a bus or train ticket.”
“Excuse me, Chief,” Mamba said during a pause in Ellerbe’s recitation. “I was wondering if I could sit down now.”
“In a minute, Phil. I’m almost there. A check of Jacob’s bank account showed that she received a thirty-five-thousand-dollar transfer of funds on the day she disappeared. I am forced to assume, even though not implicated in any way by Chief Rogers, that Officer Jacobs was a part of a number of illicit actions during her tenure as his administrative assistant.”
At this point, the Chief picked up a ledger. It was the ledger Hope used to track the cash flow of Mamba Investigations.
“Phil, your bookkeeper was kind enough to provide our accounts payable desk with this. It’s your company financial ledger.” He opened the ledger to a bookmarked page and handed it to the PI. “Please read the highlighted column headings and the totals for each of the highlighted columns on that page.”
Mamba looked down. He saw that the page indicated was Hope’s summary page for his hours on the Anderson Pharmaceuticals case and an estimate of hours donated to MPD for his work on the MPD cases.
“I’d rather not read this out loud.”
“I understand. I was hoping you would read it because I wanted the members of the group gathered here to realize the amount of time you donated to help us with two very complicated cases.” He retrieved the ledger.
“Chief Ellerbe, I have an issue with the term donated,” Stallings said.
“And what might that be?”
“Why can’t we pay this man?”
“Frank, it’s okay. I really don’t—” Mamba answered. His attempt to deflect attention away from his involvement was cut short by the Chief.
“Now, that’s a first-rate idea, Sergeant. Phil, do you remember those hidden accounts I mentioned?”
“Good. What is your fee schedule?”
“Why would you—” The PI cut himself off when the Chief cast a stern look in his direction. “I don’t like doing this. My fee is two hundred dollars per day plus expenses, but I—”
“Oh, my.” The Chief mugged an expression of shock. “So.” He opened the ledger and muttered as he ran his finger along the page.
“Divide by twenty-four. Multiply by two hundred. Add plane fare, and another plane fare, and car rental, and hotels.”
What’s going on? Mamba thought as Ellerbe struggled with the math.
“I’m afraid I don’t have the money to cover all these costs. Not even Chief Rogers squirreled away that much.”
Smiles and chuckles greeted the Chief’s observation. Even though most of those in attendance were unaware of the Ellerbe’s intent, they appreciated the humor of the situation.
“Well, I’ve had my fun, Phil. I hope you didn’t mind.”
Mamba gave a chagrinned shake of his head.
“I’m hungry, Chief. Can’t you just give him the money now?” Martinez asked.
The sound of the door to the room opening drew all eyes in that direction. Mike Mulligan shuffled in behind a specially modified walker. The right handgrip looked more like the hand guard on a military officer’s sword. Mamba watched as his friend pushed the guard with the back of his hand while holding the left handgrip normally.
It was the first time Mamba had seen his friend with his walker. He was impressed with the physical therapist that thought of the modifications. He recalled wondering at times if Mulligan would ever be able to walk again.
No one moved. Faces of those present registered shock or surprise at Milligan’s arrival. Only the Chief had prior knowledge of this agenda item. Mamba’s former partner would play Ellerbe’s trump card.
“Welcome home, Lieutenant,” the Chief said.
“Thank you, um, wait. I know man. Thank you, Policeman.”
“Do you have . . . something for me?” Ellerbe asked through a lump in his throat.
“Have I pay-per,” Mulligan answered. Using his good arm, he reached down into the walker’s storage compartment and pulled out an envelope. “For my, um, man . . . Friend!”
More shuffling of his feet managed to maneuver the walker until he was facing Mamba. Mulligan stretched his good arm out and offered the envelope to the PI.
“Take the envelope, Phil,” the Chief directed. “It’s as close as I can get to paying you half the amount you’d get from a client for your work with us. I wish it was more.”
For the first time in a long time, Dancer Mamba was speechless.
* * *
Stallings was now more discriminating of what he agreed to do that kept him away from his home at dinnertime. The list of activities outside work was a short one. This night he’d made sure he was home even earlier than normal. He had a feeling.
“The doctors are ready to start my radiation,” Lizbeth Stallings informed her husband.
The dining table was clear. They were about to start the handwashing and drying of the supper dishes. It was a ritual they’d established for all nights that they had dinner together. It helped ensure time to talk.
“Oh, Frank. I don’t know what to do.”
“Let’s go in the living room,” he said as he pried the dishcloth from her grasp.
“No. We can’t leave. They’re not all clean.”
“Then they’ll soak ’til we get back. That’ll make the job easier.”
She loosened her grip. He pulled the dishcloth from her hand and tossed it toward the counter. Frank’s fingers intertwined with hers as they walked to the sofa. He helped her sit, and then he eased himself down onto the cushion beside her.
“The biopsy showed no cancerous cells,” she started.
“I know. I was there. Remember?” While his wife had gone through the chemotherapy with a stoic resolve, there had been times her chemo-brain, as she called it, failed to retain pieces of information.
“I know. It just helps me to say it out loud. I understand that radiation is to make sure that the cancer’s gone for good.”
Lizbeth inhaled a staccato breath as her emotions began to roil.
“I love you,” Frank whispered.
“And I love you.” She sniffled. “If they d-do the radiation, it will d-damage my egg cells. I might n-never get pregnant. Or, if I d-did, the b-baby m-might have s-serious defects. I-I-I’ll n-n-never be a m-mo-mother!”
She began to cry. It wasn’t hysterical. She already done hysterical—twice. First, with Hope Mamba. The second was in her Cancer Warriors support group. This flood of tears was an overflow of deep emotion that she had to release.
He held her.
She cried for fifteen minutes. When it seemed like she was finished, he reached into his right rear pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. He offered it to her.
“It’s clean, right?” she asked as she turned her face to his.
As hard as he tried, Stallings could not help bursting out laughing. Lizbeth joined him. When the laughter subsided, she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She offered the handkerchief back to her husband.
“Nope. If you’re going to check every time I pull it out, I’m not putting it away used,” he told her with a grin. He liked the interplay. For the first time in a long time, he felt normal.
“I want to be a mother.”
“I don’t want the radiation.”
Stallings was stunned. In all his mental machinations about this conversation, he hadn’t anticipated a flat-out rejection of the radiation therapy.
“Did you hear me?”
“I did.” He placed his arm around her shoulders. “Can you tell me why you don’t want the treatment?”
“Oh, Frank! You haven’t been listening. You haven’t heard a word I’ve said!” She tried to stand.
He refused to release her.
“Let me go!”
“No. I won’t do that. I love you too much.”
“Then accept that I want to be a mother!”
“You’ll be the best mother ever,” he assured her.
“Not after radiation! They’re going to kill my eggs!” She began to sob again.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be a mother.”
She fixed him with an angry look.
I’ve got to ‘take this to the hoop,’ as she’d say.
“I know you know that,” he said. “We’ve talked about adoption in the past.”
Her angry stare vanished. She leaned toward him.
“And, you’re o-okay with adopting a c-child? R-really okay?”
“I’m okay with you being alive to be the mother of as many children as we want to adopt. There are hundreds— No, there are thousands of children who need parents. We can be those parents for one.”
“Or more,” she amended.
“For one or more of them. Lizbeth, I love you so much. I want . . . you . . . to be w-w-well.” Frank barely finished before he began sobbing—huge, aching, heartbreaking sobs.
* * *
Lizbeth Stallings was monitored carefully during radiation. A biopsy performed following the final week reaffirmed there was no sign of cancer. Back in Ohio, Doris Hopkins considered it an answer to her prayers. The lack of cancer cells confirmed that her daughter was well.
After several more weeks of prayer and a number of legal consultations, the Stallings began adoption proceedings of twin boys from an inner-city orphanage. Because of Lizbeth’s medical history, the process was delayed by the adopting agency.
The delay did not sit well with Lizbeth. Her motherhood had been delayed enough already. Franklin Stallings saw his wife’s competitive zeal reignite. He’d first experienced that zeal when he’d seen his wife playing basketball in college. He’d personally experienced it in the bruises received while playing one-on-one with her. He knew the adoption agency was in for the fight of their corporate lives.