He was trying hard not to be, but private investigator, Philip “Dancer” Mamba, was bored. It wasn’t any one thing that had pushed him off the precipice of interest into the marsh of tedium in which he now found himself. It was the combination of many small aspects of his current, and only, case that was conspiring against him. Right now, he was on the phone with that client.
It’s times like these when I’m stuck on the phone with a client who enjoys listening to his own voice, that I almost regret becoming a private investigator, flitted through his mind. He knew that wasn’t true. The ultimate reason for his career choice was based on a case involving Hope Tanner. She was now his receptionist, and his wife.
He’d refused to believe that Hope’s first husband’s death was an accidental electrocution. When his Captain demanded he close the case listing that as cause of death, he’d opted to close all his police cases. He quit the force and went to work on his own for Hope. The end result was a conviction of murder in the first degree, and he hadn’t looked back.
A vision materialized in his mind’s eye.
Well, I did look back at least once, in a manner of speaking. As I left Hope’s apartment when the case was closed, I wondered if it would be the last time I saw her. So, I snuck a look back at her. She was, no, she is a very pretty woman. She’s more attractive when she smiles, even just a little. As I waved and turned back down the hallway, I remember thinking that I should give her a call someday, just to be sure she was doing all right.
It turned out that she contacted me about being my receptionist to fill time during her pregnancy. Of course, I said yes. Then a crazed communist agent planted a bomb in my office. When it detonated, Hope was the only one there. She was critically injured, and they’d taken her baby, now our son, Jimmy, during the initial surgery.
The doctors told Hope that even after she’d healed, she wouldn’t be able to walk without some kind of support. They considered use of a cane as the best-case scenario. Fighter that she was, she’d been determined to walk down the aisle on her wedding day. Once again, he saw the whole thing in his mind.
On that day, she walked slowly and with a painful limp down the center aisle of a church filled with flowers and friends. She walked without help like she had promised she would.
There were in Hope’s eyes when she got to the altar. I realized they were due only in part to happiness because she was in tremendous pain. I had bruises on my arm for two weeks where she grabbed me to steady herself as we stood before the minister.
Something his client said through the phone cut his contemplation short. The vocal inflection sounded like it might have been a question. Even though he hadn’t heard the words, he was sure he could give an appropriate answer. William Anderson was nothing if not consistent. If I just keep on with the conversation, I’m sure he’ll never know I haven’t been paying attention. Let’s see, he was whining about lack of progress.
“As I see it, Mr. Anderson, my next move is to follow up on the chemical analysis of the material scraped from the front threshold of your factory’s office. Without a thorough examination by an analytical chemist, I can’t know whether it warrants further investigation.”
Anderson started to reply, but then paused.
I wonder what he said just before I gave my answer. I’ve never talked with this man where he was quiet for this long. I guess my chemical analysis comment derailed his train of thought. As the silence inexplicably continued, Mamba’s mind wandered. That wasn’t uncommon. He did much of his best detective work while lost in thought.
Many times it was as though he was mentally manipulating those little steel balls in a child’s pocket puzzle. The cardboard insert had holes in the eyes, mouth, and nose for the tiny spheres. It looked so simple to get a ball in the clown’s nose. But, every time you almost got it there, it would be going too fast, or not quite straight enough. It would barely miss the hole and roll around some more.
For Mamba, each ball represented some loose end of his investigation. When the last loose end was cut or tied off, the last ball rolled to a stop in the final hole. That’s when he knew he’d solved his case.
This time, Mamba’s thoughts were far from considering even one of those balls. William Anderson was notorious for his lack of patience, and the P.I.’s investigation of a burglary at the pharmaceutical factory was in its second week. The explanation he’d just given to his client for the lack of progress on the case was an example of why Dancer was Mamba’s nickname. He was renown for his verbal choreography when it came to circumventing the delivery of unpopular news to a client, or a suspect.
More words from his client invaded his consciousness and snatched his attention away from his reverie.
“I want to see an arrest,” Anderson finally said without inflection. It appeared that finding the burglar was of paramount importance to the man. That was understandable, but something bothered Mamba about Anderson’s fixation with that idea. There was concern for justice, and then there was neurosis. Mamba was still on the fence about his client’s location on that continuum.
“I don’t see how I can go to the police without the chemical analysis. That’s the only hard evidence I might have against my suspect. And even if the police do arrest someone, that doesn’t guarantee conviction. And definitely not without solid evidence.”
“I’ll agree to the analysis only on the condition that it provides some of your hard evidence. No evidence and I don’t pay for the report.”
“That’s not an acceptable position,” Mamba explained, simulating patience he did not possess. “I could have had the analysis done myself two days ago, but that type of testing costs money. As a man who deals with chemicals and their development and testing, you must know that.” He played his trump card with a touch of annoyance for effect.
“I don’t see how you can avoid additional break-ins without that lab report.”
The sound of silence filled the phone line. He hoped that he hadn’t beat that horse too hard.
I can’t deny the truth about the cost of anything dealing with chemicals. That would raise a giant red flag. And, Mamba has a point about the possibility of future break-ins. I need to be careful not to forget those kinds of details. But, I hate the thought of giving in to anyone. Giving in goes against William Anderson’s principles.
After that rambling mental monolog, and in spite of the fact that the results of this lab test could also undermine the plan he’d set in motion, Anderson decided to go along with the PI.
“I’ll pay for no more than half the cost of the analysis if it provides no evidence,” Anderson conceded.
“Fine. But, if we get the results I’m expecting, you’ll pay the other half, as well, or I don’t release the results to you.”
“That’s the way it’s going to be, if you want me to continue working for you. There are other detective agencies in town. I’d be glad to have my secretary provide a list of alternatives.”
The brief sound of angry breathing ended with the harumph-humgh of Anderson clearing his throat. Play this like a man with a wounded ego.
“My secretary will send you a form detailing that provision in the expense voucher,” the man growled. Mamba erroneously visualized Anderson’s teeth grinding as he forced those words out.
After ending the call, Mamba’s client muttered into the handset, “You are lucky, Señor Mamba, that you are dealing with William Anderson and not Guillermo Arcenas. Sr. Arcenas is much less accommodating of such presumptuous behavior as yours.”
* * *
Hope daydreamed as she waited for Phil’s call from Anderson to end. She gave her desk a visual sweep. Then, unbidden as her glance caught the wedding picture a second time, a memory she associated with their wedding pushed into her mind.
She’d found out that the first time Phil Mamba had proposed to her, she’d sunk into a painkiller stupor while he spoke and missed the actual proposal. She had to take his word on that one. She did remember the proposal she’d accepted.
I was still in the ICU. Tubes and wires combined to form a physical barrier around me. I felt caged in. My left leg was hung in a sling. There was no cast, just thick bandages with some screws and metal braces visible. Of course, the cable for the sling had a weight attached. Stretching from one of the braces over a pulley at the end of the bed. I felt like a prisoner like on the rack!
“Hope,” Phil had called softly as he entered my room. I ignored him—just to see what he’d do.
“Hope, it’s Phil. Phil Mamba.”
“You know you say that every day. How many Phil’s do you think I’m expecting as visitors in this hospital, Mr. Mamba?” were my snarky comment and question.
“Feeling better, I see.”
“A bit. I’m still tired.”
“Rest and recovery go together, at least so I’m told.”
“What brings you to this neighborhood?” I’d asked although I didn’t care what it was. I was just glad he kept coming back.
“I heard there was a very attractive woman on this floor. My investigation revealed that she might be in Room 1409. I decided to check out the rumor.”
“What’d you find?”
“That hurts.” He faked a fair pout.
“Should I apologize?” I teased.
“You might not have to. It depends on how you answer one question.”
“Ohh.” That intrigued me. I said in my best princess imitation, “How mysterious. Ask away, Sir Knight.”
“Do you remember when we talked in the recovery room?”
“A little bit. I was pretty out of it.” Now that was a stupid question.
“Yeah. I noticed. Anyway, I was wondering if you’ve finalized the birth certificate for your son yet?”
“No. Okay, that’s already two questions. Which one was the one that my answer was so important to?” I quipped. I think my pain meds had really taken hold by then.
“Neither of those. I needed to set the stage.”
“All right. I’m not going anywhere.” For this one, I remember trying to smile while waving at my elevated leg like a Barker’s Beauty on “The Price is Right.”
“Anyway, in the recovery room you said you didn’t want to talk about your son’s name.” I couldn’t believe he’d ignored all my efforts to avoid that topic.
“That is correct.” I know I didn’t sound happy with him when I said that.
“I was wondering, would it be all right if you added a name to your list for consideration?”
I stared at him. What was wrong with him today? I distinctly remembered telling him I was waiting on the name until I was out of the hospital.
“I’d like to suggest Mamba as the last name.” Then he pulled a ring box from his pocket.
“Christmas is still several days away,” I said. It took all my resolve to pretend to ignore what I’d just heard and seen.
“It’s not a Christmas present.” He sounded offended.
“Phil Mamba, was that a proposal of marriage?” I asked, deciding enough snarkiness was enough. I shifted position as best I could to look at the man straight on.
“I’ve learned recently that life is too short and too unpredictable to wait for the things you love. Hope Tanner, I love you. Will you marry me?” He stuck the ring box out without opening it.
“You don’t do this often, do you?” I asked, still with a bit of attitude, in spite of my resolve. Ahh, those pain meds. This time, there were tears in my eyes. I flipped open the box lid and gave a tiny gasp.
“Oh, Phil, it’s lovely.” Genuine emotion on that one! I sniffled and reached for his hand.
“The answer to your proposal is yes, oh, yes. Yes. Yes!”
And then, he kissed me for the very first time.
* * *
The pharmaceutical factory owner was aggravating, but not impossible to deal with. Mamba found guilt to be most effective in working with Anderson types. And, fifty percent of the cost of the analysis was a cheap way to buy three or four days of time if nothing came from the results. If the analysis paid off, it was cheaper still, since Anderson picked up the whole tab.
Mamba hung up the phone and buzzed for his secretary.
“Call the lab and tell them to go ahead with the analysis, and then come in for a minute, will you? I need you to take a memo to Mr. Anderson.”
“Is this your idea or his?” Hope asked as she entered the office a few minutes later. The attractive brunette smiled as she leaned over the desk, kissed her husband on the cheek, and added, “I’m running out of room in his file folder.”
“Believe it or not, this memo was my idea,” Mamba grinned. “We could always start volume two of The Anderson Files, I suppose.”
The PI’s eyes followed his wife as she pulled up a chair opposite him and opened her steno pad. She was not skinny. Neither was she fat. She called herself petite, which he’d always thought meant something completely different than whatever her definition was.
He had told her she should quit working for him after their wedding. He considered that expedient considering the bomb blast that had destroyed their old office. Hope had been hospitalized and almost lost her then-unborn son. But, she was adamant. Little Jimmy was at Grandma’s house fifteen hours a week, much to grandma’s satisfaction, while Hope supervised the office, and him.
“I’m all set.” Hope broke into his thoughts.
He dictated the necessary memo for William Anderson. When he finished, he leaned back in his chair.
“What’s the matter, Phil?” Hope asked.
“Oh, nothing.” He startled her when he sat forward in his chair and ordered, “Get Reed on the phone. We have a number on file for him, right?”
“Not Reed,” Hope grimaced. Requests like this one were not why she stayed on as her husband’s secretary. Most of Phil’s clients were regular people in need of some help. A subdivision of his associates was not.
“He’s such a . . .”
“Will slimeball work?”
“Well, yes.” It was against her nature to belittle anyone. Mom, Dad, and a succession of Sunday School teachers had seen to that. But, try as she might, she had to admit that Reed was difficult to find much good in.
“I know you don’t approve of him, but he does provide a service from time to time. I’m going to twist him a little.”
The confused look on Hope’s face reminded Mamba that not everyone spoke police jargon, which he still did at times. It was difficult to break certain habits, even after more than two years off the force.
“I think he’s responsible for the Anderson Pharmaceutical burglaries,” he explained. “But I won’t have any hard evidence until that chemical analysis comes back, and maybe not then, either. By twisting the truth a little, I hope I can wring some information from him. Free of charge.”
“Oh. So you pretty much get to be yourself,” was Hope’s response as she rose to leave. She understood that the nature of her husband’s business forced certain compromises between fact and fiction from time to time. She also knew that Phil would never lie if he was the only beneficiary from the falsehood. Even so, some of the details to which she’d been privy bothered her.
“I’ll see if I can reach him.”
“Thanks. If he’s not at his place, try Tug’s Tavern down on 22nd Street.”
“Will do,” she said with a sloppy salute. She turned an equally sloppy about-face and started sauntering back to her desk.
“I love you,” he called after waiting until she disappeared through the doorway.
Fifteen seconds passed.
“Me, too,” she smiled as she poked her head back into the room. “Have you worried?”
“Naw,” he replied. But out of sheer orneriness he added, “I know you can’t resist me.”
The ringing of the telephone saved him from any smart-aleck reply. She did, however, stick her tongue out in a lovely parting gesture.