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Betrayal in Blue

By C. R. Downing All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Untitled chapter

Chapter 8

Phil Mamba had always figured that a five-year-old or an architect specializing in prisons had designed the Northeastern Division stationhouse. There were no frills. Straight hallways connected with other straight hallways. Doors alternated on the left and right sides of those hallways.

Traversing the halls gave Mamba the sensation of a condemned ancient Greek citizen approaching the River Styx. The dearth of architectural features was oppressive, a clear contrast to the open space outside the station.

While walking from the men’s room to the site of his meeting, an involuntary shiver stopped him in his tracks. He looked left, right, ahead and behind him in quick succession.

If I was ever arrested and escorted through these hallways in handcuffs, I don’t see how I could be confident. Especially, if I was taken to interrogation by the circuitous routes the old-timers taught us.

Mulligan was waiting outside the door of interrogation room 4 when Mamba arrived.

“Everything come out okay in there?” Mulligan asked the classic example of bathroom humor.

Mamba gave an unhearing head nod in return, his trip through the hallways still haunting his thoughts.

Geez, Phil. It’s just a meeting with Narcotics. They’re not charging you with anything, Mulligan thought as he shook his head before following his taciturn friend into the room.

As Mamba cleared the doorway into his destination, he gave the space a quick visual scan. Nothing had changed in the two years since he’d severed ties with the MPD.

Interrogation room 4 was small with a table and four chairs. A two-way mirror was set into the wall that faced the doorway. A curtain covered the mirror now, and the electronic listening devices had been de-activated on Mulligan’s order. Mamba was only vaguely conscious of any of the details as he sat waiting for the arrival of the other principals in the drama that was about to unfold.

Every kid arrested for the first time should have to come here—and wait, indefinitely, in this Spartan environment. No color. No sounds. Just sit in this dingy room alone and think about what they’d done to get here. I’ll bet some of them would drop any idea of a glamorous life of crime. And drop some lunch, too.

The sound of the door opening roused Mamba from his introspection. An African American in a neatly pressed blue suit entered. His dark skin and hair were stark contrasts to Mulligan’s red-blonde hair and Irish complexion.

The newcomer’s eyebrows rose as he spotted Mamba, but he settled himself into a chair across from the private detective without comment. Mulligan spoke to the blue suit from where he sat next to his friend.

“Sergeant Stallings?”

“I’m Stallings,” Franklin Stallings said. The Sergeant had a résumé that included stints in two Midwestern cities. He’d been hired out of the St. Louis PD where he’d distinguished himself in leadership roles. Mulligan knew of the man, but no matter whom he talked to, no one seemed to know the man himself.

“Mulligan. Homicide.” The Lieutenant introduced himself. “I’ve seen you around.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Stallings replied. He pointed to the ebony skin on the back of his hand and added, “I’m kind of hard to miss in this place.” I think about that every day. It’s hard enough being the new guy, but being the new black guy . . . Nobody’s rude or unkind, but I wonder if anyone even knows I’m a good cop.

Mamba perked up at the gesture and the accompanying comment. Does Stallings think he’s here only because he’s black?

“I know the feeling,” Mulligan said. He stood to his full six and one-half feet and pointed to his reddish hair. “I’m kind of hard to miss, myself.”

The hint of a smile flickered on Stallings’ lips, but he said nothing. He appreciated the lieutenant’s effort.

“That’s Phil Mamba,” Mulligan continued while he pointed to the PI. As he sat down, he explained, “He’s the source of the information.”

“I see,” was Stallings’ non-committal reply. So, how’s a civilian get invited to a meeting like this? Private eye’s my guess. He looks like a cop to me.

“Where’s your man?” Mulligan asked as he sat down in the chair next to Mamba.

“He’ll be along. He was on the street most of the night.”

“Do I know him?”

“You might. He transferred from here to Southern a couple of years ago. Made detective there. I borrowed him about six months ago when Chief Rogers began his big anti-drug campaign.”

“Borrowed?” Mamba asked.

“That’s the way I put it. When I looked at my narcotics people, there wasn’t anyone who looked like he might have any connection with a Mexican cartel. Made undercover work almost impossible.”

“You profiled your own people,” Mulligan said. “That’s pretty gutsy.”

“It’s a fine line between gutsy and—”

There was a commotion out in the corridor. Mulligan started to rise, but Stallings waved him back down.

“That sounds like my guy,” Stallings commented.

The door burst open and the tail end of an off-color joke delivered in a thick Spanish accent reverberated down the hallway. A giant filled the doorway. Officer Enciso “Snake” Martinez had arrived.

Buenos dias, amigos,” the giant bellowed a greeting in his native tongue. A completely shaved head wrapped in a blue and yellow bandana topped the man’s six-foot-four inch, two-hundred-fifty-pound frame.

A large gold hoop dangled from one ear and a diamond stud pierced his right nostril above a black brush of a mustache. Each arm sported a dazzling tattoo. Faded, skin-tight blue jeans, a sleeveless yellow muscle shirt, and heavy leather boots were his uniform. Three gold chains surrounded his size twenty-one neck.

This guy’s a caricature of an undercover officer. I hope he’s more efficient than he looks and sounds like he is. Mamba thought as he straightened up in his seat.

As the door closed behind him, Martinez spoke again.

“Sorry, I’m late, Sarge. I know I should be more time conscious.” The change in the man’s demeanor was more than dramatic. Gone was the bravado. There was no trace of an accent. He wedged himself between the arms of the last remaining chair.

“Let’s get started,” Stallings urged without acknowledging Martinez’s apology. He respected Martinez’s work. He admired his skill and his ability to drop into and out of character in an instant without missing a beat. But, his professed need to be more time conscious was a stretch. Martinez had yet to show any evidence of time consciousness. I’ll take an occasional demonstration of the concept. He made a decision, I’m going to keep playing this scene as a hard case and see how my two new associates react.

Mamba shifted his weight. He was uncomfortable with Stallings’ attitude. On the one hand, he had appreciated the dry humor when he announced the arrival of Martinez. On the other hand, the Sergeant appeared to be an overbearing bore with his almost insolent attitude toward the Hispanic American.

He knew Martinez more by reputation than in person. The officer deserved more courtesy than Stallings had just shown. He wondered if that was Stallings’ attitude toward everyone.

“Mr. Mamba came to me as a friend last week,” Mulligan began with an introductory nod toward the private detective. He, too, was somewhat ill at ease at the combination of Stallings’ manner and Martinez’ physical presence. He was anxious to get all the attention focused on the matter at hand. “He provided me with a list of names he had obtained.”

Mulligan produced the manila envelope and dug out the two pages of notes he’d retained. Mamba snapped open his briefcase and produced his two pages. As if choreographed, the pages were tossed onto the table.

“We ran selected names of these lists through INVSTAT, the CII, and local sources,” Mulligan continued as Stallings and Martinez read through the names. “Every name we’ve checked out is known to deal pot, cocaine, heroine, or worse. That’s where you come in, Stallings.”

“Yeah,” Stallings agreed. He tapped the paper in front of him. “I know at least three of the guys on this page by sight.”

“And I’ve had contact with three times that many,” Martinez added a deliberate underestimation. “They’re all dirtballs.”

“Then we can count on your help in running this thing to the end?”

“I don’t see why not,” Stallings said. “What do you think, Martinez?”

Es lo mismo. It’s all the same.” The big man shrugged. “We might as well get ’em now if we can.”

“You’re hired,” Mulligan said as he glanced at Mamba.

“I might know more of those scumbags, but I’m not too up on the spelling of your gringo names,” Martinez spoke as he shifted his bulk in his chair. “You know that they all look the same to me . . .”

“You got a point, Martinez?” Stallings spat out the question.

Mulligan and Mamba exchanged uncomfortable glances. Stallings either missed or ignored the sarcastic nuance in his agent’s comment.

“One of the contacts is in a gang I’m working on right now. He has some kind of dealings with a middle management dealer named Weston. That’s the third name on this page.” He tapped a beefy finger on the list and winked at Mamba as Stalling’s gaze shifted toward the table.

“You don’t say.” Stallings leaned forward, his interest piqued at the revelation from his associate. He picked up the page and asked, “I guess we’ll be checking this out pronto.”

. Pronto,” Martinez’s teeth flashed a dazzling white against the olive complexion of his mustachioed face.

Mulligan and Mamba exchanged meaningful glances. Stallings appeared to be unaware of Snake’s humorous intonation as he repeated his superior’s terminology. Mamba shook his head. Mulligan flashed a warning gesture.

“I think you need to keep these original lists safe,” Stallings decided. “I’ll get copies made. Officer Martinez, I believe you’ve got other places to be.”

“Yes, sir,” the mammoth Hispanic replied. He shook hands with Mulligan. As he turned to Mamba, he said, “You’re outside your normal space, Lieutenant.”

“Didn’t know if you remembered me. But, I consider myself back in familiar territory, Officer Martinez,” Mamba answered and offered his hand.

“Sounds like me. We’ll have to exchange stories about our return to Northeastern,” Martinez said as he shook hands and moved toward the door.

“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.” Stallings opened the portal and exited to the copy room to get the copies of Mamba’s notes. Martinez took a deep breath, turned, and threw a wink at the two remaining men.

“An’ the oo-ther man says, ‘You chood’ve seen her seester!’“ he bellowed and laughed uproariously. Another wink preceded his final, “Adios!”

Mulligan shook his head. Mamba looked at him and laughed. It would be difficult to convince a sane group of unbiased observers that what had just transpired in interrogation room 4 was official police business. They killed time with a discussion of the Monday night football game while they waited for Stallings to return.

Ten minutes later, a female officer looked into the interrogation room.

“Lieutenant Mulligan?” She asked.

“Yes.”

“Sergeant Stallings sent these down to you,” she explained as she handed Mulligan Mamba’s four original lists.

“Thank you.”

The officer nodded and left.

“Strange bird, that Stallings,” Mamba said as he prepared to leave.

“Strange is not the word,” Mulligan corrected.

“Hey, we should have had Stallings make me copies.” Mamba snapped his fingers as he realized that the two of them had only the original list and a single copy between them.

“No problem,” Mike told him. “The copy room is on the way out for you. I’ll go along and we’ll get you copies.”

Sergeant Edwards took down Mulligan’s badge number. He pulled the copy counter key for the Homicide Department and ran the copies as requested.

Mulligan took the originals and handed the set of copies to Mamba. The two men continued along the corridor to the stairs that led down to the street.

“It looks like we’re underway.”

“Sure does.”

“Kind of like old times.”

“They were good old times,” Mamba amended with a firm shake of Mulligan’s hand. “Thanks, Mike.”

“What are friends for?” Mulligan asked. “And, this one helps everybody. See you soon.” He turned and headed back inside the police station.

* * *

During the next week, Mamba worked only the Anderson Pharmaceuticals burglary. As Reed had unintentionally tipped him, the chemical analysis of the scrapings from the office door’s threshold proved they contained resin. The resin was not a conclusive link between Reed and the burglaries. But, it did provide a circumstantial link between the list of names and a specific type of crime.

Reed’s acknowledgment of recent time spent at The Jazz Machine strengthened that link. The permanently temporary stage of the club/bar was constructed from planks of rough-cut pine. Once the lab confirmed the substance recovered at Anderson’s factory as resin, placing Reed at the crime scene was simple. A test of resin from The Jazz Machine’s stage matched it to the crime scene sample. Time spent working the street confirmed the connection.

Mamba’s gut told him to play his hand close to the vest with his client. He held a strong belief that results of his work belonged to him, even if those results were achieved while someone else was paying for his time. He never withheld anything essential to the resolution of the matter he’d investigated from his clients. The non-essential discoveries were those that he held close to his vest.

In the case of the lab results, Mamba had classified some of them as non-essential. I don’t know why I feel like holding back this information, but I’m going to. It wasn’t long after that decision that Hope buzzed his line.

“William Anderson, right on schedule, and holding.”

“Put him through.” And so began what had become Anderson’s weekly Monday morning update on the progress on the break in at his factory.

Preliminary back-and-forth conversation between client and private investigator proceeded as usual. Anderson signaled he was ready to move on to current events when he asked, “Don’t the police have a list of suspects in this case?”

“The police do have a list of suspects they’re following up.” As Mamba spoke, a tiny alarm went off in his head. Why am I confirming a list of suspects to my client? He mentally filed the query and said, “I am confident that there will be at least one arrest before long.”

“And what of the chemical analysis that I am paying for?”

“It confirmed my suspicions. The results of the analysis led to the observation of a particular suspect.” Mamba said, blending truth with strategic falsehoods and insinuation in another evasive maneuver.

“So, you finally have a solid suspect. I was beginning to question my choice of investigators.”

“I’m looking at a candidate for primary suspect. But it appears as though there is an unusual amount of interplay between several known drug traffickers going on. I’m not willing to put all my eggs in one basket yet.”

“I see.” Although I don’t agree with the decision, it’s nice to hear that my actions are producing the desired results. “When do you estimate some resolution of this matter by the police?”

“Well,” Mamba hedged. “If you pushed me for an estimate, I would guess by the end of the month at the earliest.”

“I will expect to hear from you again at that time, if not before.” Anderson accepted the time estimate and hung up. Well, played, if I do say so myself. It appears as though I’ve got Garmel’s people’s knickers in knots about who knows what and who’s doing what to whom.

Mamba replaced his phone and shook his head. He would never understand a man like Anderson. On the one hand, how could any reasonable person expect someone to predict when a case would be wrapped up? But, on the other hand, he had decided that the chemical analysis was worth paying for.

Mamba shrugged. He had enough other concerns, not the least of which was the silence from the Narcotics Unit about the list.

Mamba had been waiting for word on their plans for a raid. Stallings and Martinez had seemed anxious to get started. But now it looked like they were stonewalling for some reason. I need to know how far over his head Reed is in this whole situation.

Because of the delay, Mamba had set up an appointment with another snitch. Flatly Broke was the man’s nickname. All who knew the man understood the appropriateness of the moniker. The PI had no clue of the man’s given name.

Flatly was a former boxer who had a weakness for ladies of the evening. This particular weakness was one that Mamba planned to exploit. The rumor that Sherleen Hobbs, a hooker, was seeing the doctors at the downtown clinic would guarantee Flatly’s attention.

“Phil, there’s a, um, gentleman here,” Hope told him after he’d flipped on his end of the office intercom. “He says he has an appointment, but your calendar doesn’t show one.”

“I set this one up and must have forgotten to tell you about it,” Mamba confessed. “If he’s about five-nine with chocolate brown skin and a pushed in nose, send him in.”

“He’s on his way,” Hope announced. “But I don’t think he appreciated the crack about his nose.”

“He’ll get over it.”

The door to the office opened and Flatly Broke sauntered in. The black man was stylishly appareled, but the appearance of style was an illusion. It took no more than a not-so-close inspection to reveal threadbare spots in the shirt and pants and serious sweat stains on the fashionable hatband. Flatly Broke was usually just that.

“What you want, Dancer?” Flatly asked.

“Let’s start with a little conversation. Pull up a chair.”

“How come you wanna talk wit me?” The man sat down without enthusiasm.

“Later, Flatly, later,” Mamba promised. “Would you like some coffee or maybe a soda?”

“Well, I would like a beer.”

“No beer here at the office. Your choices are soda, coffee, or tea.”

“Got any ginger ale?”

The detective nodded.

“With lots of ice?”

Another nod.

“Okay, that’s what I’ll have.” The former fighter’s smug look indicated his pleasure with the result of his negotiating.

Mamba called out the order to Hope along with an iced tea for himself. The two men talked about experiences from the time when the private detective had been a police lieutenant. The most memorable of those experiences was nowhere near what Mamba had in store for the man now.

Hope interrupted their reminiscing with the cold drinks.

The interlude of congeniality lasted a few minutes more. Then Mamba provided the boxer with the purpose of the meeting with a series of jabs to the heart.

“I’ve got a tip for you, Flatly.”

“That’s a switch,” the man chuckled. “Usually I got sumpin’ you want.”

“That’s still the way it is.”

“But you said . . .”

“I’m offering a trade,” Mamba explained. “Something you need for something I want.”

“What you got I want?”

“I have important information you need,” Mamba corrected him. “It’s about one of your female friends.”

“Ain’t none of my lady friends been pinched in months.” Flatly confidently sipped his ginger ale. “You can’t tie me to no vice at all.”

“Not vice,” Mamba agreed. Then, he leaned forward in a practiced maneuver. He stared hard at the man before him and casually asked, “How about AIDS?”

“AIDS!” Ginger ale sloshed onto the carpet as the snitch reacted with a start. “I got nothin’ t’do with them diseased hookers, man. And I don’t do no fags, either. I tell you, I’m clean!”

“Maybe you used to be,” was the ominous response. “But I know that one of your contacts has been exposed to AIDS.” Mamba presented the innuendo as fact. Flatly’s reaction had been all that he’d hoped for. He added some completely fictional background as an embellishment to the scenario, ending with, “And she was exposed before your last experience with her. I’d get to a doctor if I were you.”

“I will. I will!” The man promised as he made a move to stand. “I’ll go to the clinic right now.”

“Not quite yet,” Mamba advised. He motioned the man back into his chair. “You still need the rest of my information,” he paused. “And, I want you.”

“What’s the rest of your info’mation?”

“Who it is.” Mamba watched the small man’s eyes. They widened second-by-second as the words registered in Flatly’s brain. “That’s right. If you don’t know who exposed you, you’re still in jeopardy. Unless you either become a priest or find new lady friends.”

“You right. As usual,” Flatly admitted. His shoulders slumped, his head dropped forward, and his eyes stared vacantly at the carpet. He’d taken enough punches in the ring to know when he was beaten. “What I gotta do to find out who she is?” he mumbled.

“Make a buy for me.”

“You crazy, Dancer? I don’t do no drugs!”

“I want you to make a buy while you’re wearing a police wire,” Mamba ignored the protestations. “It’ll only be coke, so the dealer won’t suspect anything.”

“I tol’ you, man, I don’t do no drugs!”

“And I don’t breathe air.” Don’t even try to lie to me.

“Okay, man. So I snort some coke. But only at parties. I ain’t no addict. No way I could afford no habit.”

“That’s why people steal things,” Mamba reminded the boxer. “I’m going to the station this afternoon to set up the time and place of your buy.”

“Please, man,” Flatly whined. “They’ll kill me if they ever find out I’m workin’ for the cops.”

“There’s no bargaining. You want the name, you wear the wire.”

“But they’ll kill me.”

“They might kill you. AIDS will kill you. Take your pick.”

“Ooohhh, man.” Groans escaped from between the gnarled fingers of the hands that covered his frightened face. “I wish I’s already dead.”

“I’ll contact you through the Cap’n down at Tug’s,” Mamba continued, ignoring the theatrics of his newly recruited associate. “You be there tomorrow for lunch. There’ll be food and a new set of clothes.”

“New threads?” Flatly’s head jerked upright. Clothes were important to the man. New clothes. New clothes were the stuff of dreams. “You serious, man? You start talkin’ new clothes, and you better be serious.”

“Dead serious.”

No reaction. Mamba shook his head. The sarcasm was lost on the punch-drunk fighter.

“Can I pick ’em?”

“Leave a list of the clothes you want and your sizes with my secretary on your way out. I’ll spring for up to two hundred.”

“Dollars? I gets two hundred U. S. dollars worth of new threads? You really serious about this, ain’t you?”

“I want this to work and you not to get hurt.”

“Thanks, man,” the fighter gushed. The promise of brand new clothes had pushed the threat of disease, and everything else into the deep recesses of his addled brain.

Mamba brought him back to reality with a single comment.

“You’ll get the woman’s name after the buy.”

“You being straight with me, Dancer?”

“Haven’t I always been straight?” Mamba asked as he showed Flatly to the door. “You be at Tug’s tomorrow at noon, understand?”

“I do, man,” Flatly’s reality was short-lived. Mamba’s offer of clothing resurfaced in his thinking, once again masking the threat of disease. “You ain’t never lied to me. My new threads’ll be at Tug’s, right?”

“With the tags still on, Flatly.” He patted his new informant on the shoulder and watched as the excited man began to give Hope the information needed to purchase the promised wardrobe.

All it took was new clothes. Mamba shook his head again. I could have gotten his cooperation without stretching the truth.

You never knew.

* * *

After the boxer left, Mamba took Hope out for tacos at one of the new food trucks that parked off the street in the Peacock Valley Park lot. The hot sauce was just that, and they ended up stopping for an ice cream cone to cool the fire in Hope’s mouth. He left for the Northeastern Division station after dropping her back at their office.

The station was less crowded than it often was. Mamba remembered that usually meant one of two extremes was about to occur: a leisurely afternoon and an on-time trip home, or an afternoon that lasted long into the night.

“Are they stonewalling us?” the PI asked Mulligan. “Shouldn’t we have heard something by now?”

“I would think so. But Narcotics has to work at its own pace. You remember.”

“Yeah, yeah. But maybe we could encourage them to speed it up a little.” Mamba paused, “I have a plan.”

“And, I’m not surprised. What do you have in mind?”

“Trust me.”

Mulligan grimaced. “Way too often.”

“That’s cold.” When Mulligan ignored his quip, he continued, “Can we meet with Stallings right now?”

“I’ll check,” Mulligan picked up the phone and dialed the extension number of the Narcotics Sergeant.

Fifteen minutes later, Mamba and Mulligan sat in chairs in Stallings’ office. The Sergeant looked haggard. His suit had lost its pristine appearance. It was clear that it had been a long week for the man since their last meeting.

Stallings hated this part of his job. He enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. He also enjoyed luring foe and friend alike into a false underestimation of his ability by his staged appearance of disorganization. But, sitting and waiting while information was verified drained him. Some of this delay is my own making. I hate the reason for that most of all.

“Lieutenant, I am not dragging my feet on the investigation,” Stallings sighed as he responded to Mulligan’s opening question. “We have been working full-time on a marijuana smuggling ring. It broke last night.” He sighed again, “I’m just beginning the paperwork.”

“We’re not accusing you of anything, Sergeant,” Mulligan said. “In fact, we might be able to help you out on the investigation of that list of names.”

“What’s on your mind?”

“Mr. Mamba has an idea,” Mulligan answered with a motion toward the PI.

Just great. Paperwork up to my backside, and now advice from a civilian. I can only hope this is the low point of the meeting. In spite of Stallings’ negativity, he managed to keep a poker face as Mamba began.

“I have a snitch who is willing to wear a wire to a coke buy. Can you set one up?”

I did not expect that. Stallings straightened up in his chair. But, his expression made it clear that he wanted more information before he agreed to anything. In case Mamba missed the visual clue, he asked a question.

“How do you know we can trust the guy?”

“He’s worked for me and never gone off the reservation,” Mamba said. “Besides, I’ve got a hook in him pretty deep. He’s scared enough to do whatever I ask.”

“Fear’s a strong motive,” Stallings agreed. “But, I’m not too sure.”

“If we set this up properly, we won’t have to worry about Mamba’s man doing anything to mess it up,” Mulligan chipped in. “For instance, it’ll have to be the right time and place.”

“No, actually, I was thinking more of the right dealer,” Mamba corrected. He made eye contact with Stallings and continued, “Wasn’t there a name on my list that you knew was tied to some current dealings?”

“Um,” Stallings rubbed the stubble on his chin as he tried to remember the names on the list. “It seems to me that Martinez is working in a gang associated with a Martin, no, Milton Brown.”

Mamba rummaged through his briefcase and produced his copies of the original lists. He scanned them in his search for the name of Milton Brown. That name was not on any of the four pages.

“No go. Brown’s not on the list.”

Stallings muttered some profanity. “That’s right. Brown is Martinez’s contact. He’s got to be a bottom feeder. What was his supplier’s name?” He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead as he mumbled, “Darrel—no! Weisman. Uh, Westlake. Weston.”

The sound of Mamba’s finger jamming onto one of the pages stopped Stallings’ train of thought at the Weston station.

Finally! That’s one steel ball in a cardboard hole!

“It’s here all right! Weston’s our man. How long before you can set up a meeting for a new buyer?”

“You better give me a day,” Stallings decided after several seconds of silent thought. “Martinez is here sometime each afternoon. If all goes well, we should be on for tomorrow night.”

“I’ll plan on having my man here at least four hours before the buy,” Mamba said. “That way we’ll have plenty of time to check and double check the equipment before we leave. I want him to feel very secure before the buy goes down.”

“Good enough. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Stallings announced. Get out of here! This form won’t fill itself in. He spun in his chair and began typing information on the page in his typewriter. It was obvious the meeting was over.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Mulligan said as he rose and started to leave. “Come on, Phil. It’s in good hands now.”

“I think you’re right,” Mamba agreed. Out of habit, he reached out to shake hands with Stallings, but the Sergeant was lost in paperwork land. He wiggled his fingers and then clenched them into a fist in a feeble attempt to appear as though he had extended his arm for a reason. After a quick glance to be sure no one had seen his faux pas, he followed Mulligan out of the room.

“I feel better about Stallings now after that little outburst—profanity and all,” Mulligan said as the two men walked down one of the arrow-straight hallways.

“And, it was good to see that he actually works,” Mamba added.

“Even all night sometimes like the rest of us?”

“Uh, huh. My first impression was desk jockey all the way.”

“I checked around. Stallings is a solid cop. He’s just still a little new to the department.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. He hired in from somewhere in the Midwest about a year ago.”

“That explains why I don’t know him. How about Martinez? I don’t remember much about him.”

“You wouldn’t. He came over from the Sheriff’s Department about the time you left the force. Word around the department is that he’s one of the best.”

“I knew he wasn’t a new cop. I have a vague memory of crossing paths with him on some case. Thanks, Mike, for sticking by me.”

The pair walked in silence to the station’s main door. Each man was content to mull his own thoughts. Mulligan broke the silence.

“You know if I thought you were wrong, I’d be turning you down.”

“I know.”

“This will help the whole city if it works. Actually, I should be thanking you.”

“You got that right,” Mamba agreed with a mischievous smile. He dodged a punch, moved down the stairs, and headed for his car. As he reached the sedan, he turned. Mulligan was nowhere to be seen. As he climbed in and closed the car door, he breathed a prayer of thanks for friends.

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