Episode I: Part V - The case of the Mystery Phone Call
"His name is Jason Edward Smyth," agent Morelli informed me, returning to his desk with with a thin manilla folder, several documents partially visible outside the bottom of the file. I was seated on the opposite side of my agent friend's desk as we continued our conversation. He pulled out his chair, sat, then opened a drawer, swapping the file for a pair of reading glasses.
"We were able to retrieve and match his prints from the hole punch you provided," Morelli said, entering the last of several keystrokes on his desktop keyboard before pushing the enter button. "He has the usual, lengthy record -- from a teenager starting with nickel and dime stuff all the way to mob affiliation. He's been connected with several crime families for the last twenty years or so, never rising above the level of an associate, non-made member. Rumor has it he has collateral duties as an enforcer -- used as compliance muscle or for approved whacks," he continued, reading off the monitor before swiveling it in my direction.
"Yeah, I see that," I remarked, perusing the computer screen closely, the suspect's photo appearing in the upper left corner. "What's his status currently?"
Agent Morelli moved and clicked the mouse, the next page appearing with the same suspect photo. Stamped in red letters, the word, 'paroled' appeared diagonally across the entire page. Moving closer to the monitor, I noticed a parole date that extended back a little over two months ago. Further review of the computer file confirmed Jason Smyth was released on parole from Blackwater Correctional Center after serving 8 years for labor racketeering, extortion, and arson, although he was considered a suspect in several other cold cases, including murder. At the time of his incarceration he was associated with the Pozzallo Crime Family, with operatives in the greater Metropolitan area, particularly in drug trafficking, extortion, loan sharking, theft of public funds, and labor racketeering.
"Is he under investigation or surveillance currently?" I asked.
"He is now," Morelli replied, rising from his chair. We've got a paroled mobster with a phony driver's license somehow connected with a dead cop. The phantom phone call, your discovery of the murder, the incident the following day at your agency, and Smyth's unwarranted release tells me what you already know; it all appears connected. And as for Detective Chief Sullivan and Sgt. Mulholland -- we'll add them to the investigation as well, free of charge."
"I take it MPD never informed you of McPerson's murder?"
"We were officially notified by the state's DLE, another red flag. That's the paper file you saw me throw in the desk drawer earlier. Has the McPherson family asked for your help on behalf of Seth?"
"I haven't had a chance to speak with his widow or adult children. It's entirely possible they believe the MPD is conducting an appropriate investigation. I told you about the marked vehicles outside the home; not unusual when one of their own has been killed in the line of duty. It's also possible their presence is to detect or deter my involvement. I didn't want to call Mrs. McPherson if the Chief Detective has her landline bugged. I don't know who has Seth's cell phone, but I can have Delia locate his wife's cell phone number."
"I could check the McPherson landline to confirm a tap, but it might alert MPD to our involvement," Morelli informed me. "For now let's keep them believing you're the only other outside party investigating Seth's murder."
I nodded my head in agreement.
Agent Morelli opened his desk drawer again. He pulled out the manila file and handed it to me. "I've added a copy of the bureau's two pages you viewed earlier. Take a look at it and commit to memory whatever you believe is important. And just so we're on the same page -- you didn't see this or get it from me -- capice?"
"Understood," I replied, my eyes capturing the information on the documents like a scanner. I returned the file to Morelli and drove back to my agency. It was later in the evening when I arrived. I unlocked the door and walked past Delia's desk and into my office, the dimmed banker's lamp on the opposite side of her computer monitor acting as a nightlight, revealing the general layout of the otherwise darkened room. I opened my office door and walked to my desk, stooping down slightly as I reached for a small flask of hooch I kept stashed in one of the drawers. I needed it. I poured a couple of "mud in your eye" gulps into one of several caffein stained coffee mugs scattered sporadically on top of my desk. That was the last thing I remembered.
"Look's like he's coming around," a female's familiar voice echoing in the background as I instinctively moved my hand to the back of my head. I couldn't determine which was bigger, the knot on my skull or the migraine sized throbbing I felt. I winced, rolling and twisting until I finally managed to sit-up, leaning against a concrete wall in a room I recognized as the same office I discovered the lifeless body of Seth McPherson. Visual acuity slowly returned, my focus sharpening until the distinct outline of Sgt. Mulholland and Jason Smyth, aka "Travis Moore" was crystal clear.
"How does it feel, hotshot?" Smyth asked, rendering a wry smile. He was holding my gun, obviously happy he now had the upper hand.
"I'll let you know after you're sentenced to life plus 25," I retorted sarcastically. "You and your cohorts," I added.
Smyth walked angrily in my direction -- probably to belt me a few times. Sgt. Mulholland quickly grabbed his arm. "Forget it," she said. "We have bigger fish to fry right now. The plane will be here soon. Once we've unloaded the shipment, we can reload it with 'Mannix' here and toss his gumshoe ass out somewhere over the desert. No one will ever find him."
Smyth grinned like a Chesire cat. "Can't think of a better send off," he said, Mulholland's plan of disposal assuaging his anger.
"Here, take some of these zip ties and bind our friend good and tight," she directed, extending her hand toward Smyth with the ties. There's some duct tape in the desk drawer. Tape his mouth and blindfold him with your pocket square, then come out here and help me open the hanger doors. The plane should arrive with the five bales in about fifteen minutes. They'll contact me on my cell phone as soon as they've taxied to the hanger."
"No problem," Smyth grunted, holding the ties in his left hand.
Mulholland turned and began walking across the empty hangar bay, her steps slowly fading as she neared the large, sliding aircraft doors. I could see she was wearing a bullet proof vest underneath navy blue coveralls, her Glock 9 millimeter holstered and attached to a wide, black utility belt.
"Okay, Duggan, face down on on the floor, hands behind your back," Smyth motioning with my gun still in his hand, stuffing the revolver in his waist band as I began to comply with his order. Just as he stood over me I quickly rolled on my back, drew my right leg to my chest, then kicked like a mule, nailing him squarely in the family jewels. He instantly dropped the ties and gun, reflexively grabbed his crotch and fell to the floor with a soft thud. A low, guttural moan followed, confirmed by an agonized expression on his distorted face.
"How does it feel, hotshot?" mockingly returning his question. I flipped Smyth over and quickly zip tied his hands and ankles. I grabbed the duct tape out of the drawer and taped his mouth, then dragged him behind the desk and zip tied him again to a corner leg. I removed my cell phone from his jacket, then picked-up my revolver and walked cautiously to the partially closed office door.
It was dark throughout the hanger, the only illumination coming from just one of four fluorescent tubes secured to the office ceiling. I could hear Mulholland fumbling with the hanger doors. They were installed with a motorized opening mechanism, but the motors had apparently been removed, requiring they be opened manually using a chain and cable system. I could hear her fumbling with the opening mechanism as I quietly walked toward her and the noise. She had placed her small service belt flashlight on the adjoining door handle, pointing it toward the doors. She heard my approaching footsteps, turning around and acknowledging my silhouette.
"About time you got here," Mulholland said, believing it was Smyth. "Give me a hand with these doors. The plane will be here soon; they'll be spooked if they taxi up to the hanger and they're still closed."
"Having a problem? I asked. Mulholland stopped fiddling with the doors, exhaling an exasperated sigh as she recognized my voice and flippant tone. "Don't even flinch," I ordered.
Walking up behind her, I unsnapped and lifted the semi-auto Glock out of its holster, depressed the magazine release button, kicking it hard to the left after hitting the floor. I dropped the Glock and kicked it to the right, both sliding a good distance on the smooth concrete. I grabbed and scrunched a handful of shirt collar behind her neck and pushed the crooked cop back in the direction of the office, my revolver in my other hand. I directed her to a chair. "Sit, and don't get up," I told her.
Smyth was on the floor in a fetal position, still moaning through the duct tape over his mouth. She rendered her partner in crime a disdainful and unsympathetic gaze, probably thinking he was an incompetent dumbass. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket.
"Hold on, Duggan. Maybe we can work something out," Mulholland implored, realizing she would either spend the remainder of her life behind bars, or have it terminated sooner by a mob family who didn't want her making turncoat deals with state or federal prosecutors. She was obviously throwing out some bait, wondering if perhaps I might bite. She didn't have anything to lose by trying, so I decided to play her. "I heard you mention five bales; continue," I said.
"Five bales of high grade cocaine. Five million dollars to you if you let me go -- leave, just walk away," she replied. That's over thirty percent of its street value. A deal of a lifetime if you're smart enough to say yes."
"You'll have to do better than that. What about McPherson? Why was he killed?" I asked.
"He found out about tonight's drop. How I don't know, so I lured him to the hanger and had Smyth whack him before he discovered my involvement."
"So that's why you were nosing around his desk the day I dropped by. You were looking for anything that McPherson had lying around that might connect you with tonight's drop."
"I knew you'd jump head first into it as soon as you were aware of his murder," she continued, so I had Smyth call under the pretense of a client who needed your help. The plan was to whack McPherson -- then you, then dispose of you both. The problem is my dumb-ass partner became impatient and went to a bar and grill after he whacked McPherson rather than waiting to take care of you. Instead he got drunk and picked-up some floozy, so we sent him to your office the next day to finish the job -- but he screwed that up too."
"Chief Detective Louis," she answered.
"Yeah, I thought so," I replied, my anger reaching a boiling point. I decided to let State and Federal authorities question her and arrest the Chief Detective regarding their involvement with the Pozzallo Crime Family. My current priority was to get Morelli and his agent colleagues here as quickly as possible, seize the plane and shipment, and arrest everyone involved.
"So, what do you think? Remember, we're talking five million dollars," she asked, giving it one last shot.
I paused, trying to contain my fury. "You want to know what I think, Mulholland? I think I'd rather dive naked onto a pile of rabid porcupines than to ever consider anything you have to offer. You murdered my partner -- and my friend. He was a husband and father -- a dedicated, decent cop and a good man. You -- on the other hand, are a cold, uncaring, murdering bitch -- and a disgrace to law enforcement. You, Smyth, and the rest of your drug dealing, murdering partner in crime mobster friends are going to prison for the remainder of your shitty lives -- that's what I think."
Mulholland just sat there, returning a bewildered gaze, like a deer in the headlights. She placed her hands on her face, bending her upper torso slowly forward as she began to cry -- or at least that's what she wanted me to believe.
In the blink of an eye she extended her hand downward toward the floor, removing a hidden .38 caliber back-up revolver attached to her ankle. As she brought herself and the weapon upward, I raised my own gun and fired one shot, striking her squarely in the chest, slamming her backwards and onto the floor, her gun flying across the room and behind an old credenza cabinet. She was flat on her back and unconscious, saved by her bullet proof vest, exchanging a toe tag for a dinner plate size dark blue and purple contusion.
"I'm actually glad you were wearing that vest, Mulholland," I said out loud as I stood over her. "Seeing you go to prison for the reminder of your sorry life is the greater poetic justice."
She was starting to come around, moaning. Even with a bullet proof vest, a direct hit in the chest at point blank range with a .38 calibre round is like being hit with a sledge hammer. Her chest was going to hurt like someone dropped a cinder block from two stories.
I zip tied her hands and ankles and once more to the opposite corner desk leg. I grabbed my cell phone again just in time to hear the sound of an aircraft approaching the hanger. With the hanger bay doors still closed and Mulholland not picking up her phone, my guess is they'd wait no longer than a minute or so before turning the aircraft around. If I was wrong and they forced entry, I was a dead man walking for sure. I ran across the hanger to a small observation window on one of the doors. At least I could go down fighting -- or so I told myself.
Hunkering down, my .38 caliber pistol in hand, cell phone in the other, I was a second away from pushing Morelli's contact cell number. It was then my eyes caught sight of a caravan of DEA and FBI tactical assault vehicles roaring around both sides of the hanger, lights flashing on every truck in an overwhelming show of force. They surrounded the aircraft, swat officers pouring out the mobile pill boxes like hornets attacking an unwelcome intruder. At the same time I could hear the sound of a ramming bar being used to force open the main entry business door, the same door I originally entered the day I discovered McPherson's body. I heard Agent Morelli's voice as the door burst open.
"Duggan -- it's Morelli. Can you hear me?" he shouted, S.W.A.T. officers running en masse in front of him as they fanned out in every direction.
I holstered my revolver as a precaution. Right here" I shouted, instinctively raising both arms. It was still dark inside the hanger, and I had no intention of being mistaken for one of the bad guys. "I'm walking your direction," I continued to mutter, attempting to lower the tension we were both feeling.
"Everyone -- it's Duggan, hold your fire," Morelli ordered, apparently recognizing my voice.
Morelli could finally see enough of me as I approached. He lowered and holstered his Sig Sauer 226 semi auto pistol, a sign of relief appearing on his face. "You're certainly a sight for sore eyes," he said smiling.
"Yeah, and you're beautiful too," I replied, reciprocating with my own smile, both happy this miserable ordeal was finally over.
Morelli stopped two officers walking hurriedly by him. "Let's get some lights on in here."
"We're on it," they answered.
"I brought someone who's even happier than I am," Morelli said as he turned around and motioned with his arm.
Walking with a S.W.A.T officer in our direction until I finally recognized her was Delia, a smile of relief so evident it could have lit up the entire room without the help of any lights.
"This lady probably saved your life," Morelli began. "Delia called when she couldn't reach you at home earlier on your landline, and then your cell phone. She told me she was calling to let you know she had a dental appointment first thing in the morning, and would be running a little late. She went on to say she's always able to reach you after hours, either at home or on your cell phone, or that you never fail to get back to her within ten minutes. When you didn't return her call, she called me. I told her to meet me at your office. When we arrived, she immediately noticed your desk was slightly askew."
I turned and looked at Delia with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. "What was it you noticed, Delia?" I asked, my interest totally piqued.
"You left that flask on your desk, and the drawer you keep it in was open," she answered. One of your coffee cups was tipped over, and your chair pushed off to the side," she replied. I know you Matt -- that's just not like you. You're too neat and tidy about little things like that. I knew something was wrong."
"I asked Delia to go with her gut about what she thought happened, or where you might be," Agent Morelli continued, and she didn't hesitate to answer in three words: 'the hanger bay.' "She's one of a kind, Duggan. I'd hang on to her."
"Oh, I fully intend too," I replied, smiling happily as I put my arm around my very intuitive assistant, pulling her close to me.
Officers opened the hanger bay doors and towed the aircraft inside with its load of high grade stash. The aircraft's pilot and crew were handcuffed and led to waiting vehicles for transport to jail, along with Smyth and Mulholland. Morelli informed Delia and I that Chief Detective Louis was in the process of being arrested at his home as we spoke.
"Oh, if you don't mind, Frank, Delia and I would like to drop by the McPherson home tomorrow morning. We want to be the first to explain everything that's happened. The odds are probably one hundred percent they've been kept in the dark and bamboozled by Mulholland and Sullivan."
'I'm okay with that," Morelli replied. McPherson's wife and family knew you and Seth were pretty close. Let her know we'll be in contact as well, along with the DEA. The DLE will be conducting an extensive investigation regarding the Metropolitan Police Department. We'll need to know if there were any others involved."
Delia slipped her hand around my arm, tugging gently. "How about an early breakfast, Matt, with plenty of coffee?" she suggested, still smiling.
"Hmmm," I said as I furrowed my eyebrows. "As a matter of fact, I know a very popular restaurant ......"
Click to read Episode II Part I "MATT DUGGAN - Detective Series"