Mike Mulligan, Lieutenant of Homicide Detectives, looked up from his desk as the door to his office opened. The lines of worry that creased his brow even at this early hour smoothed out when he recognized his friend and former partner, Phil Mamba. He stood and held out his hand to his visitor.
Three years ago, this room was Lieutenant Mamba’s office. He was a rising star in the MPD. His conviction rate was the envy of all and discussed with an almost mythical reverence in the locker room.
For his part, Mulligan knew Mamba as a classmate at the regional police academy, where they’d met. The attraction was not mutual at the start. Phil Mamba took some time to grow on you.
Mamba’s impressive conviction rate was not achieved by luck. The man was relentless and a bit bizarre. For example, Mulligan remembered recitations about little steel balls rolling around in his head.
Act normal even though you know something’s up.
“It’s good to see you, Phil!”
“Good to see you, too, Mike.” Mamba glanced around the small cubicle that he’d once occupied. Stacks of paper created disorderly piles in every available open space. It was obvious that Mulligan was not on top of all the paperwork required by a police lieutenant. To Mamba, it appeared his friend had barely started his climb toward the top of that part of his job. “How’s it going?”
“I think you know.” Mulligan grimaced. He’d noticed Mamba’s scrutinizing appraisal of the office disarray. “How’d you get all the paperwork under control?”
“I found prayer to be a big help.” Mamba grinned. Then he added, “The truth is that it just takes experience. And long hours. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a second in command that’s a dynamite typist.”
“I figured you had some kind of secret,” Mulligan accused. “Who did your typing?”
“Sergeant Phillips, before she resigned to have her baby,” Mamba confessed. “After she left,” he held up his hands, “these babies did all the key pounding.”
Mulligan’s face fell.
Mamba allowed his friend to suffer for several seconds. Captain Martin would have called the revelation about doing his own typing a “character builder.” Since he’d never liked Martin, Mamba added the rest of the truth for his friend. “And, I took a night class in typing at the Adult School when Phillips told me she was leaving in five months.”
Mike perked up at that information. “Is the class still open?” He asked only somewhat facetiously.
“The Adult School usually has one going. Can you spare the time?”
“To save time in the long run and to help get this mess cleaned up a little, believe me, I’ll make the time!”
“I’ll shut the door if you don’t mind,” Mamba told Mulligan as he pulled the handle on the wood rimmed glass partition. It was time to get to the point of his visit.
“Must be serious business.” Mulligan frowned as he returned to his chair. “What’ve ya got?”
“It needs a little checking, but I think I’ve got a laundry list of information on the drug traffickers in the area.” Mamba snapped open his briefcase and removed the envelope with the pages of names and locations Reed had supplied to him.
Mulligan took the papers from his friend and made a cursory inspection of each. Holy cow! he thought as he scanned page three. If even half this list is legit, it’s worth more than a stack of gold bullion. When he finished page four, he leaned back in his chair with a soft whistle.
“Mind if I have copies of these made?” Mulligan asked.
“I figured you would.”
Mulligan pushed the intercom button on his desk phone.
“Can you come in here, please, Peggy.”
By the time Peggy Wallace, the department secretary appeared at the door, Mulligan was waiting for her, lists in hand.
“Get Sergeant Edwards to copy each of these. Tell him it’s Code Three.”
She nodded and made an immediate exit. Although Code 3 was the code for use of lights and sirens by police vehicles when responding to a call, in the MPD it had come to mean the same as ASAP in most other organizations.
* * *
“Hey, Eddie,” Peggy called to Sergeant “Eddie” Edwards, the officer of rank in the Records and Copies section.
“Hi, Peggy. What brings you down here?”
“I need copies,” she deadpanned.
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” Edwards answered with a huge smile. He walked from the copy machine he was using to the counter that marked the limit of public access to the copy room.
“One copy of each,” she said and handed over Mamba’s lists.
“You want fries with tha—” Edwards cut off his most common quip when he finished his quick visual scan of the first page of lists. He almost always checked out what he was copying. What had started as casual routine had become an essential adjustment to Edwards’ activity. This is a hornet’s nest of names. Names of people I know about, and names certain people don’t want others to know about.
“You okay, Eddie?”
“Huh?” Get it together! “Oh, yeah.” He cleared his throat. “Must have got something down the wrong pipe.”
He went back to the large copier he’d been using when Peggy arrived. He repeated four sequences of lifting the copier lid, placing a page on the glass, closing the lid, pushing a button, and then removing the page. Those actions produced a copy of each page of the list. He knocked the four sheets together on the top of the copier to align them in the stack. Without preamble, he swore loudly.
“Hang the maintenance sign on this one,” he growled to his assistant as he crumpled the four copies he’d just made. “We got to get service down here immediately.” Turning to Peggy he held up all four of her lists and said, “I’ll take these to the smaller machine. Just be a minute.”
“No problem,” Peggy replied as the man disappeared through the door to the back half of the copy room.
He pulled the door closed behind him and went to the metal desk on the back wall of the room. He lifted the phone and removed a page of numbers and notations from beneath it. He dialed the number at the top of the page.
“Manzanita Copy and Fax.”
“This is Edwards over in Northeastern. I need an emergency service call.”
“What’s the problem?”
Edwards ran his finger down a column on the page titled, PROBLEM.
“Far as I can tell, we need a new toner cartridge.”
“I see. What model number was that machine? I want to be certain our technician brings the correct cartridge.”
As he ran his finger down the page a second time, but this time in the column titled DESIGNATION, he answered.
“Yeah. It’s the five thousand.”
“Glad I asked. That model take’s a special cartridge.”
“How long will the machine be down?”
“I’ve got a service van in the area. Maybe ten minutes from the time the technician arrives.”
“Have him ask for me,” Edwards said and hung up. As promised, he made the requested copies on the machine by the desk. He delivered the copies and the originals to Peggy.
“Thanks, Eddie. I don’t know how we survived without copy machines,” she said.
“I try not to think about that,” he answered with a wave. Just as Peggy reached the door to the copy room he called to her. “Oh, Peggy, tell the Lieutenant he owes me a cup o’ Joe, from a diner, for the expedited service.”
“Sure thing Eddie.”
* * *
Mulligan closed his door and returned to his seat before he began asking his questions about the lists of names.
“Where’d you get those?”
“I heard it from a reliable source,” was the conveniently elusive answer.
“You don’t have to dance for me, Phil.”
Mulligan grimaced. A habit I’m all too familiar with, he thought before he asked, “Anyone I know?”
“You might. He’s been around.”
“Do you use him often?”
“When it’s appropriate.”
“You’re not going to tell me who it is, are you?”
“No.” Mamba grinned.
“Okay.” Mike smiled, too. “I had to try.”
A knock on the door ended the line of questioning.
“Come in,” Mulligan called.
Peggy did just that. She handed the now eight-page stack to the Lieutenant.
“Sgt. Edwards says you owe him a cup of real coffee for the fast turnaround,” she said, paraphrasing the man’s words.
“Thanks, Peggy. I’ll keep that in mind.”
After the secretary was gone, Mamba remarked, “I’m impressed.”
“That was seriously fast turnaround time on those.”
“Edwards is a good man. Now, about this list,” Mulligan held up the pages as he turned the conversation back to the original track. “Have you checked out any of the names?”
“I haven’t had time. Just got them last night about 6:00.”
“You know I can’t go to Narcotics without some verification.”
“I’ll check it out if you want,” Mamba offered. “I just wanted to be sure you were interested.”
“More than interested. How about by Tuesday? I’m already scheduled on Wednesday into a task force meeting that includes the Narcs.”
“Um,” Mamba hesitated as he played out the time in his mind. Next Tuesday gave him four full days plus the one he had already started. That would provide enough time since he wanted to report back to William Anderson by then anyway. “Sure. Tuesday’s fine.”
“You’re not being altruistic about this are you?” Mulligan stated as much as asked.
“How much will this help you on whatever case you’re on?”
“Mike, I’m hurt!”
“Come off it,” Mulligan refused to be conned. “This reeks of something you’re working on for a client.”
The PI shrugged and remained silent. It was best to let his friend’s fertile imagination run rampant. Revealing Anderson as his client would do no good and could possibly do some harm to his investigation. He had given Mulligan what he’d uncovered. That was enough.
“Okay, you’re in—for the time being,” Mulligan qualified the level of involvement he expected from his friend.
“Then, I’d better get started,” Mamba announced as he selected two of the pages of names Reed had supplied him and shoved them back into his briefcase. He slid the remaining six pages into the manila envelope he’d brought with him and dropped it back on Mulligan’s desk. He turned to leave.
“Tuesday,” Mulligan reminded. Then he pointed to the envelope. “Thanks.”
“Tuesday,” Mamba confirmed. “And, you’re welcome.” After a beat, he added. “Try not to lose the envelope in this black hole of yours.”
He pulled the door shut as he left. As he walked away from Mulligan’s office, he wondered, How long will it take for Mike to contact the FBI’s current database? He remembered it used to be known as INVSTAT. He also remembered that it wasn’t always helpful.
After grimacing at Mamba’s office clutter innuendo, Mulligan roused the department secretary on his intercom a second time.
“Peggy, get me INVSTAT on the phone, please.”
“Yes, sir, Lieutenant.”
Once again, Mulligan leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes. He knew why Mamba left two of the original lists of names. He expected his friend to do some checking on his own.
INVSTAT, the Federal Bureau’s acronym for their Status of Investigations system, kept track of all the local investigations of which they were aware. The FBI was capable of running any of the names on the list and would provide Mulligan with information concerning any past or pending investigations involving that person. It was a handy, reliable, and quick way to verify certain pieces of information.
Of course, the downside was the Feds then knew of your interest in a case with the potential of becoming their case. In other words, INVSTAT was more often a hindrance than it was a help to local law enforcement agencies.
“For the greater good,” Mulligan mumbled as the phone buzzed.
“Lieutenant Mulligan,” he stated slowly and distinctly.
“Code, please,” a mechanical voice intoned.
“Rosencrantz,” Mulligan responded with the week’s code of access to the INVSTAT files.
“Counter code,” was the next emotionless request.
“Zero-Seven-Two-Seven-Zero-Five,” completed the necessary access information. Each local police agency had its unique access number. Both the code and counter code number had to be correct, or the computer would hold the line open until a trace was made on the initiating phone’s location.
There was a significant time delay while the confirmation was granted. Mike knew enough about computers to know that it did not take that much time to process the information he had given. He was convinced that INVSTAT traced all calls it received. He couldn’t blame the Feds, especially with all the terrorist types around.
“What can we do for you, Lieutenant?” were the first human words Mulligan heard from the INVSTAT.
“Can you run a couple of drug suspects for me?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” was the too perky reply. “Spell the names slowly, please.”
Mulligan complied. He picked one name from each page and meticulously spelled each name using the standard alphabet codes.
“That’ll be enough . . . if it pans out.”
“I hear you. We’ll TELEX the report by fourteen thirty hours California time tomorrow.”
Customers on any TELEX exchange could deliver messages to any TELEX machine around the world. To lower line usage, TELEX messages were first encoded onto paper tape and then fed into the line as quickly as possible. The system normally delivered information at sixty-six words per minute. The messages were encoded using the International Telegraph Alphabet No. 2, adding a minimal level of security to each message.
“That long?” Mulligan asked facetiously as he flinched a bit at the reference to his time zone. They traced the call.
“The machine’s been sick.”
“Until tomorrow then.”
The click of the receiver in Mulligan’s ear confirmed that the conversation was over.
“Peggy,” Mike buzzed the secretary a third time.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” was the immediate response.
“I need a Teletype hook-up.” Mulligan preferred the older version of the machine’s name. Anything with an EX at the end sounded suspicious to him.
Peggy did a quick calculation of the amount of time she would need to set up a viable link with the temperamental TELEX system.
“Give me fifteen minutes to clear a line.”
“That’s fine.” Mulligan did some time calculating of his own. Fifteen minutes would be just long enough to get a fresh cup of coffee, recycle the previous cup in the men’s room, and check on the progress of the primary homicide investigation he was involved with.
Seventeen minutes later, taking extreme care not to make any typographical errors, he punched at the keys of the TELEX machine. The terminal was tied into the central computer of the Criminal Identification and Information—CII—division of the State Government’s Justice Department. The information available from this source differed from that of INVSTAT by providing only prior criminal records with no consideration of their current status with the law.
Mulligan entered the same names that he’d given the INVSTAT investigator into the CII terminal. He paused then added two additional names from the list, hoping to increase his chance of obtaining concrete background information on someone listed on the handwritten pages on his desk.
The TELEX response from CII was usually instantaneous. After Mulligan stared at the silent printer for five minutes, he decided that the system must be “down” on the other end. What had the man from INVSTAT called the problem? Sick machine. That was it. With an evil glare, he pushed his chair back from the terminal.
He stalked away from the recalcitrant device and stopped at Peggy’s desk.
“Keep an eye on that printer.”
“Yes, sir!” She replied. “Do you want to know when it comes in or do you just want me to collect it for you?”
“I’ll pick it up later,” he decided. “It’s not life and death.”
“Very good, Lieutenant. I’ll keep it here for you.”
“Thanks, Peg.” Mulligan checked his watch. “I’ve got to get to that meeting with the Captain. It may be tomorrow before I pick up that printout.”
“No problem. I expect to be here.”
“Sure. That’s okay,” the Lieutenant remarked absently. He turned his thoughts toward the agenda of his next meeting.
Peggy shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. Lt. Mulligan was a nice guy, but he sure checked out mentally in a big hurry sometimes. She picked up the phone handset and punched an open line button in response to an outside call.
* * *
Phil and Hope Mamba lived in a split-level house in the middle-class neighborhood of Manzanita Heights. The house was a short commute up Hillside Drive to Las Piñas Rd. There was nothing special about the place. That was thanks to the Manzanita Heights Home Owners Association. It looked like any other of its cookie-cutter clones in their neighborhood. The only distinctive feature was the front door wreath, which Hope changed on the first day of each month.
It was Monday night. Monday nights for Phil Mamba meant Monday Night Football. Contrary to her husband, Hope Mamba was not a fan of Monday Night Football. It invaded a night in Phil’s always-crowded schedule. Tonight, she would have traded her husband’s preoccupation with some unknown situation for his usual interest in whoever those two or three men were that announced the play-by-play. Their insight, wit, and colorful descriptions were wasted on the entire Mamba household this Monday.
“Anything you want to share?” she asked as she looked over at the tense form pretending to relax in the recliner.
“I was wondering if you wanted to share whatever it is you’re concerned about with me.” She invited her husband over to her side with a pat of her hand on the cushion of the couch.
“I wish I could,” Phil confessed as he brought the recliner to the upright position. He usually bounced ideas off Hope’s brain. It was wired differently than his in many places. Often, input as a result of those different pathways provided the perspective he needed to determine the importance of a piece of evidence. Because of that, their dialogs often helped him get a steel ball in a hole in the clown face he visualized while building his case.
It was too early to speculate on the significance of what he’d given Mulligan. Until I have verification of Reed’s list from law enforcement sources, it’s better if I’m the only Mamba worried about the case. He qualified his refusal to accept Hope’s help.
“But, I’ve got to keep a tight lid on this until the police investigation ends,” he said and plopped down beside her.
“Will that be long?” She snuggled close.
“I don’t know. They might not have started yet.”
“Don’t try to figure . . . it . . . out.” His voice trailed away as he became aware of Hope’s softness.
* * *
It was a refreshing and relaxing commute. Having taken only surface streets because of the continuing threat of rain, Mamba arrived at the Northeastern Division’s station early for his meeting with Mulligan.
He parked in the visitor’s lot and walked across the street to the small coffee shop there. Open 24 Hrs flashed on and off on a sign in the window. Mamba thought that the sign was the highlight of the establishment’s décor.
This morning, it was coffee he was after. He ordered a “regular coffee with extra cream to go.” With Styrofoam cup in hand, he strolled down to Las Piñas Rd and back.
He checked the time on his watch, tossed his cup in the receptacle outside the front door to the station, and walked directly to Mulligan’s office.
“What’d you find out?” Mamba initiated the conversation with Mulligan as soon as the door clicked shut behind him.
“Me?” Mulligan’s feigned innocence was no more convincing than Mamba’s had been in their previous meeting.
“Which alphabet gave you the most? Feds or State?”
“California came through. It was CII. In spades! I almost called you.”
“Almost, is right. I bet you wanted to be sure that I earned my client’s money,” Mamba said.
“Just looking after your interests. How’d you do?”
“Same-o, same-o. A hit every time I checked.”
“I’m surprised by the quality of your information. You still going to sit on the Confidential Informant’s name?”
“You mean my CI,” Mamba said.
Mulligan gave a confused nod.
“I haven’t been away that long. I still remember the acronyms. And, you know I’ve got to sit on the name. It means we need each other now.” Although Mamba grinned as he spoke, his tone was all business.
Mulligan nodded. He understood the fragile relationship between a cop and his informants. They were called “confidential informants” for a reason. He cleared his throat and asked sarcastically, “Can you still find interrogation room 4 without help?”
“Unless you moved it. Why?”
“Remember that I told you I have that meeting with the Narcotics boys Wednesday?”
“Well, it got bumped up. They’ll be there in half an hour…” Mulligan let the sentence hang.
“And if I just happen to show up, you won’t send me away.” Mamba finished. “See you in thirty.”