“What’s on the tape, Mac?”
“This is too hot to tell you over the phone. Better warn Chief to expect a whole caseload of calls from the public and the media. It’s big trouble, Andy, and there’s more coming up soon.”
“Okay, Mac, get the tape over here pronto, I’ll pull a guy out of tech to work on it.”
“It’s dynamite all right,” said Chief Amos, his brow furrowed. He, Mac and Andy were in his office listening to the original tape. He turned to Mac. “What went live?”
“I was lucky. The perp hesitated when Sullivan asked him if he killed Josie. We cut the live program at that point, and we had a ten second gap to also cut Sullivan’s question.”
The chief looked more cheerful. “So we can claim the guy is a crank who made up the whole story, and nobody except us and the radio station knows about the perp’s threat?”
“That’s about it,” replied Mac. He could see the chief frowning and added. “John Hughes, the station director, is playing ball. He’ll hold off for the time being, at least until Saturday night.”
“What makes you so sure?” the chief asked. “He’s a media guy.”
Mac grinned. “I offered him a new police toy to try out. It’s one of our phone tracers, in case the perp calls back. John Hughes is a professional. I told him he would get an exclusive when we catch the perp.”
The chief grunted, and looked at Andy. “What’s your take on this?”
Andy was on the ball. “We know the guy’s in the Longfield airwaves area, and that’s he’s planning something spectacular on Saturday. Once we get the tape cleaned up, we could have a voice someone in the Bees entourage would recognize. That would be a great leap forward for us.”
He started to say something else about John Hughes, but the Chief cut in. “The bad news is we’re running out of time before Saturday.” He turned back to Mac. “Any ideas?”
Mac had plenty. All bad ones. “If it’s got anything to do with the Bees’ game, we’re in big trouble already. They expect fifty, maybe sixty, thousand people will be in that stadium, let alone those travelling to and from the game. The logistics of policing that size crowd is enormous.”
The chief scowled at Mac. “So far I’ve held off calling in the Feds. Why? Because we haven’t got any firm evidence; all we have is your hunch.”
“The best we can do is to put our available manpower on alert,” said Andy. “And warn their security people to keep a tight watch on anything out of the ordinary.”
The chief gave him a stare. “Andy, if that’s the best we can do, we’re dog crap. And that’s looking on the bright side.” He shook his head, and pointed a finger at them. “If you want me to sit on it, I want both of you to come up with something a whole lot better. He paused, as if having an afterthought. “And put a cap on any leaks coming from the radio station. Otherwise we’ll have everyone from the mayor down, on our backs forevermore. He picked up a file from the heap on his desk and banged it down hard. A fine layer of dust rose. “And that won’t happen on my beat, you hear me loud and clear?”
“Impossible,” said Mac. “We got maybe forty-eight hours to find the perp. We don’t know what he’s planning, but I would stack my chips on the Bees game.”
“Possibly a bomb threat,” suggested Andy.
Mac shook his head. “Maybe, but does it fit his profile? Let’s get Elmer in on this.” He saw Andy raising his eyebrows. “Time is against us, we need to come up with something fast. Elmer is the best option we got right now.”
Andy shrugged. “I guess so, let’s haul him in.”
Mac picked up the interview room phone, and called Elmer. “Elmer, it’s Mac. Take a break, and help Andy and me brainstorm what the perp is up to right now. We’re in the small interview room next to the desk clerk.” He listened to Elmer, and nodded to Andy as he hung up. “He’ll be right over with the tech guy. We got a clearer tape version, but it’s still not sharp. Seems like the perp took precautions not to be distinct enough for anyone to finger him.”
Andy beat his fist on the table in frustration. “This asshole’s running rings around us, Mac. What are we going to do?”
For once Mac felt icy calm. Adrenalin nicely simmering in the recesses of his body. Waiting. “First of all let’s listen to the tape, and go from there. There could be something we missed first time around.”
Andy relaxed a little. Cracked his finger joints to release the nervous tension. He stood up. “While we’re waiting I’ll get coffee in for us. It could be a long session.”
The tech guy set up the equipment, and explained what he’d accomplished. “First off, I filtered out background noise. It was hubbub mainly, some pedestrian noise also. It seemed like the guy had called from a phone booth. Then I accentuated the pitch and tone without losing the natural voice.” All matter of fact, like it was easy. “But I encountered two problems, the voice was muffled and indistinct in parts, and the radio station recording equipment -- well to put it delicately -- is not up to modern standards. This is the best I got.”
The voice was male, measured, mocking. Arrogant and self-assured. Someone in control. They listened several times. Nothing they put a handle to, it was a regular Midwestern Joe accent. Andy ejected the tape and threw his arms up in frustration. “This perp will fry if I get my way,” he said. “Son of a bitch.”
Something was bothering Mac. He tried to get a handle on it. Something the techie had said. Background noise. He sat up, and turned to the techie, “You got a tape with only the background noise?”
The techie grinned. “That’s twenty bucks Gates owes me. I told him you’d be asking for that.” He retrieved a tape from his jacket pocket, slotted it into the machine, and pressed the play button. “It’s all yours Mac.”
They started to play it through. “There it is,” shouted Mac. “I recognize the voice, or rather the order.” They all looked at him. Mac calmed down, “It’s the Oasis bar Smithsonian, downtown. You order French fries; they got all sorts of topping. But that one’s unique. ‘Blue’.”
“Blue,” exclaimed Andy. What’s that mean?”
Mac laughed, “Hey where you been, blue shark, gives chili dog an extra bite.”
Andy gave Mac a blank look. “So where does that get us?”
Mac banged the table with a clenched fist. At last, a real breakthrough. “It means the perp was in the Oasis bar today, that’s where it gets us.” Mac explained. “The perp was calling from a payphone in their lobby, but this one is next to the kitchen.”
That galvanized them into action. Andy was there. “Mac, you go and check the bar out. While we’re fielding radio station calls, Elmer and I will work on what the perp is likely to do next. We’ll meet back later, ok?”
Mac didn’t wait for anymore. He flung his jacket back on, and was out of the door.
“Detective, lunchtimes are always busy.” The young stand-in Oasis bartender handed Mac’s ID back. “Folks come and go; we got up to a hundred walking in and out this week. All I have time for is to take orders and make up drinks.”
Mac expected that. Smithsonian was amassed with back-packers, students and Bees’ fans, and the perp would hide himself amongst them. Ideal camouflage. Safety in numbers. He put away his ID and sat down at the bar. “Okay, get me a Bud from the cooler,” he said. He swiveled round on his stool and gazed around. The bar had emptied out, just one raucous couple remaining, close by. Helium balloons hovered around their table. The table was a mess. Coloured paper parcels and cards strewn haphazardly, and intermingling with plates of half eaten sandwiches and empty Asti Spumante champagne bottles. Maybe they had noticed something. He picked up his bottle and took a draft, then moved over to them. “Excuse me folks,” he said as they looked up. “You Bees fans?”
The man choked, and pointed to his t-Shirt with a broad Bees motif on the front. “Hey mister, you had one too many. What’s this I’m wearing?”
The girl spluttered and picked up a plate of food. “Hey Tony, don’t give the man a hard time, maybe he hasn’t had a sandwich.”
Tony slurred his words. “One short of a picnic, huh?” They both convulsed at their private joke - until they looked up at the ID badge. Detective Stewart Mackenzie, Homicide Unit.
“Now we’ve established I’m not ready for the happy farm, maybe you folks can help me out,” said Mac putting on his serious cop voice. “You seen anyone in here you recognize?” It was a long shot and, given their state of inebriation, he wasn’t expecting regular conversation.
Mac wasn’t disappointed. “We had ourselves a party,” said the girl, as if it needed explaining. “My birthday.” She pointed to a white badge with 21 in red numerals pinned to her blouse, the top two buttons undone and showing cleavage jiggling from a red bra. The man picked up a card from the table, opened it and pressed the button inside. A tinny version of ‘Happy Birthday’ sang out. The girl giggled and shifted on her seat. “Tony, you do that again, I‘ll wet myself,” she said in a loud stage whisper.
Mac stood there not saying a word.
Tony stopped smirking, and sobered up. “Detective, the whole office turned out, and then some. We knew most everyone, you want a list?”
The girl laughed again. “We haven’t had so much fun since last time.” She shrieked at her own joke, and staggered up from the table. “I gotta go to the little ladies room,” she said, walking unsteadily towards the bathroom.
Mac sat down at the table while Tony was collecting up the parcels and stuffing them into a bag. He idly picked up a couple of cards and read the messages. Mandy, her name. He turned the card over. Then he stared. There it was, scrawled across the back. “To Mandy our biggest fan, wishing you the best 21st ever from the Bees. Hope you can see the game live.” And an undistinguishable signature underneath the good luck message. Mac grabbed Tony’s arm, and showed him the message. “Who wrote this,” he asked.
Tony focused hard. “Hey it’s from the Bees,” he replied. “Awesome.”
Mac was becoming exasperated. “I’m not fooling around, Tony. Did you see who wrote it?”
Tony sat and thought. It was a long process, and Mac was about to drag them both down the precinct when she got back. Tony surfaced at last.
“No idea, Detective. I was late arriving with our crowd. Must have happened before we got here.” He saw the girl returning and pointed to the card. “Hey Mandy, you got a Bees message here on this one. Did I miss out on something?”
She looked puzzled at first, and then her eyes lit up. “Awesome Tony, a message from the Bees team. Got me all excited, I can tell you.” She slumped back in her seat, her expression changing. She slurred her words. “I’m not feeling too good. I think we’d better go, Tony.”
Mac wasn’t having anymore. “Listen up real good, Miss. You want to spend the rest of your birthday locked up behind bars while you sober up, I can call a cop car right now.” He paused to let that sink in. “Or you can get your brain into gear, and tell me who wrote this message.”
Mandy closed her eyes, held her stomach and moaned. That was it. Mac got up, told Tony to get a pot of black coffee, pronto. Then he dragged Mandy to her feet and propelled her protesting to the bathroom. He shouted across to the bartender that it was ‘police business’ and ‘don’t get involved’, as he pushed her into the ladies. He stuck Mandy’s face into a basin and turned on the cold tap and held her there until she spluttered back to life. After she vomited a few carrots he let her wipe her face with some paper towels, and told her that she was under arrest. ‘Withholding important information on a homicide.’ That really woke her up.
“Mister, it’s my birthday,” she pleaded. “Give me a break.”
“First of all it’s Detective, not Mister, and secondly I want answers and I want them like right now. You understand me Miss?”
She nodded her head. “Okay, I need a drink.”
“Miss I’m giving you a break here. There’s a drink outside waiting. It’s black and it’s coffee, and after I get answers I don’t care too much what you do. You hear me?” He took her by the arm, and manoeuvred her back to the table where Tony was filling up cups from the coffee pot. He waited until Mandy had taken a few sips from her cup, then he asked her the same question as before. “Who wrote the Bees message on your card?”
Mandy picked up the card again, frowning. Her face pale. “Err yes, I think I remember,” she replied. “I was outside the front entrance looking for Tony’s crowd, when some of the Bees jogged by.” She glared accusingly at Tony. “Tony was late as usual, that’s why he missed out. Serve him right.”
Tony blinked. He pushed his coffee to one side, leaned back in his seat, and started to fall asleep.
Mac pointed at the card. “Mandy, for Christ sakes, I’m not interested in your domestic life.”
She went quiet and sipped some more coffee, winced with the taste, then returned to her story. “They were all wearing Bees’ jerseys, but I had no idea who they were; maybe back-up players. I think I recognized one of the coaches. Coach Mason. He’s been on TV some games.”
Mac held back his impatience. “Who signed the card?” he asked again.
She hesitated. Slurped some more coffee. “I waved my card at them and one of the players wrote the message, I think.” She held her head in her hands. “Can’t remember too well. I was just excited to see them all close up. Sorry.”
“Did any of them use a payphone in the lobby?”
Mandy shrugged. “No idea. After I got my card back they started to jog off and I was pulled back into the bar by my co-workers. We were celebrating with some real fine champagne.”
Mac could see that was all he was going to get for now. It was enough to narrow the field, and they could get to work on that. “Okay, miss. Give me your contact details, and I’ll get you to make a formal statement tomorrow. You can enjoy the rest of your birthday, today.”
She sniffed, and patted her hair as she gave him the details. “Mister, I mean Detective, I gotta get my tresses done again. They’re all messed up.”
Mac reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He peeled off fifty bucks. “My treat,” he replied, as he got to his feet. He gave Tony a shake to wake him up. “Make sure she’s sobered up for tomorrow, ok?”
“She said back-up players and coaches. Only one she recognized was Coach Mason.” Mac finished his report. “I’ll go and talk to him.”
Andy held up a hand. “Hold up there Mac. What we don’t want to do is to spook him if he’s the perp. And if he’s not the perp, then we’ll just spook one of the others when word gets around.” He looked uneasy. “Chief tells me that word from the mayor’s office is if we cannot nail the perp with hard evidence, we have to wait until after Saturday’s game before we go in all guns blazing. Then we can DNA them all.”
“And by then we could have hundreds, maybe thousands, of casualties,” replied Mac angrily. “How can we do our job with one hand tied around our back by some politician whose never been at a homicide scene? We’re dog crap whatever.”
Andy beckoned Mac closer. “Chief also told me that if you had firm leads I was to let you run with your instincts, but it has to be off the record. Mac, you’re on your own with this one.”
Mac heard. He was being given the green light by Chief Amos provided he didn’t spook the perp. Tall order. “If it’s off the record I want Elmer with me.”
Andy smiled. “Chief told me you’d ask for Elmer. Well don’t hang around here sucking up to me, go and get him. And Mac, you both take care. This perp is a cold-blooded killer.”
Mac had to concede that Andy was an OK guy after all.