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Assistant Police Commissioner Roger Smalley listened to the incessant ringing at the other end of the line, cursing softly to himself. After several long moments, he cradled the receiver, his mind racing to evaluate the ramifications of his problem.

Benny Copa would have to learn that he couldn't just waltz off to nowhere and leave a job unfinished. Especially this kind of job.

When Smalley had first heard from one of the metropolitan precincts that a girl, the girl, dammit, had been spirited out of hospital, he absolutely did not know what to make of it. And then the facts had started to come in. The girl belonged to some kind of detective agency. Able Company, or something like that. Another member of the agency was an out-of-towner, apparently her brother. And that stank. Smalley hadn't liked that at all. He wanted the stranger neutralized. That was Benny Copa's job.

And he blew it.

Not that Smalley now suspected Copa of running out on him entirely, oh, no. The little ferret didn't have the guts for that sort of double cross.

He was just irresponsible as hell, that was all, and more than alittle uptight these days when it came down to getting his own hands dirty.

Smalley was considering ways to severely chastise Benny Copa if he couldn't raise him in the next half-hour, when the phone rang at his elbow. A little smile played across the assistant commissioner's face.

That would be Copa on the line, asking for instructions. The thin smile continued to play across Roger Smalley's lips at the thought of Benny Copa sweating it out, wondering what the hell was going on.

Smalley picked up the receiver on the third ring, taking his own sweet time about answering.


"Hello? Commissioner Smalley?"

And it wasn't Benny Copa, dammit. Smalley couldn't place the female voice at the other end of the line.


"This is Officer Traynor, sir. I'm sorry to bother you at this hour, but I... wehave a problem that we need to discuss right away."

Smalley felt his throat muscles tightening, and he had to clear his throat before he could answer. He took a deep breath, telling himself that the woman sounded nervous and tired, and that he could undoubtedly control the situation if he only kept his cool.

And he knew what was coming, oh, yeah, only too well.

"Yes, Fran, what is it?"

Give them the old first name bit, and put them at ease. Make them think you remember them all and value them as individuals.

"Well... I... that is, I'm not really sure where to start."

Her confusion was obvious, and Smalley intended to turn it to his advantage from the start.

"The beginning?" he suggested amiably.

"Yes, sir," she said, sounding grateful, gathering her breath. And then she launched into a capsule recitation of the Blancanales rape case, her sudden transfer from the rape unit to public relations, her theory of the crimes and apparent proof of deliberate interference... and the sudden appearance of a big fed named La Mancha, out of Washington.

When Smalley had heard enough, he interrupted her.

"We don't want to discuss any more of this on the telephone. I'd like to meet with you in person, immediately."

She sounded immensely relieved as she answered, as if he had lifted the weight of the world from her shoulders.

"Yes, sir, whenever you say."

Smalley consulted the wail clock, thinking swiftly.

"We shouldn't be seen together at headquarters," he told her. "Assuming your suspicions are correct, we must take every precaution."

"Yes, sir."

He had her now. He could feel it through the wires.

"Very good," he said, stroking.

Smalley gave her a location and scheduled the meeting for thirty minutes later. They would discuss the details of Fran's suspicions at that time.

He put all the sympathy he could dredge up into his voice, gratified as her words fed back even greater relief and gratitude. Finally they ended the conversation with the lady thanking him profusely for listening, and he confirming that he would meet with her.

So far, so good.

Smalley had handled it well, and that knowledge almost dispelled the nagging tightness in his gut. Almost but not quite.

Fran Traynor's call had been, among other things, a damned annoying interruption of his morning's plans. She had prevented him from placing his scheduled call to the Man, and now it would simply have to wait until he made some space, acquired more breathing room.

He tried Freddy's Pool Hall again, and slammed the phone down angrily on the seventh ring. Damn Benny Copa to hell, anyway.

Fishing a leather-bound address book out of a drawer in the end table beside him, Smalley rifled through the pages until he found a number accompanied only by cryptic initials. The old crocodile grin was pasted back on his face as he began dialing swiftly.

There were more ways than one to skin the proverbial cat, and more ways than one to get a dirty job done in St. Paul. Even on short notice.

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