Captain Becker closed the file and motioned for her to sit. “I share some of the responsibility for this disaster, Frankie. I let you take a chance on this sting because you said it was a sure thing. I should know better. Last year my wife bet on a sure thing. Ten grand of our savings for a thriving laundromat the owner didn’t have time to deal with. Ever hear of Imminent Domain? Of course you have―smart girl like you.”
“Six months later my wife gets a letter from the city. Evacuate the premises it says, on account of the entire block is gonna be razed to the ground. I shoulda known better than to trust anyone who tells me it’s a sure thing.”
Frankie squirmed at the comparison. “We would’ve had him and his gang, if only ….”
He held up a forefinger to signal that she should wait. “If only someone hadn’t shot Bert Song?”
Frankie opened her mouth to explain, but the expression on her boss’s face said there was a punch line and the joke was on her.
“You know Bert Song was married.”
She’d done a comprehensive and thorough bio on Bert Song’s life, gang and family. It was on his desk. So what was this about?
“Yes, Sir. Everything It’s all in my report.”
“She ran one of his sweat shops, didn’t she? What about illegal immigrants?”
“All of her employees had green cards. She runs a sewing shop and she likes to gamble but her husband holds the purse strings so it doesn’t get out of hand. But I couldn’t find any evidence that she was part of her husband’s criminal activities. “
As if her discomfort was amusing, his mouth twitched into a half smile. “Sounds like quite the model wife…considering it was her prints are on the weapon you pulled out of that dumpster. What I want to know is, did you know she was going to be there? Or that she would try to kill him?”
Frankie took a moment to relive the scene; her team in place behind the wall at the alley, weapons ready to tighten the net around the gang as they ran out of the door. But then Frankie heard the unexpected sound of a single gunshot, and then another, and a terrified woman ran screaming out of the alley. Frankie dragged the frightened woman away from what appeared to be a gun fight and got whacked with the butt of a gun. Momentarily stunned, she sent one of her team after the woman while the rest went into the alley to round up Bert and his crew.
“No sir, I had no idea she would be there, much less that she would shoot her husband.”
Bert Song was lying dead in the alley, a handgun against the wall. She bagged the gun, and while Bert Song’s gang was herded into the wagon for processing, she sent two of her team to canvass the area in case the woman dumped her weapon. They came back in less than five minutes with a recently fired 0.38 they found in a dumpster. Yes, there were rumors Mai-Lin Song hated her husband, but she never expected she would show up at a robbery to shoot him. How did she learn about the robbery and where it would be? Better yet, who told her?
She knew defending her position was a waste of time, but she had to try. “It happened so fast I didn’t recognize her as Bert’s wife. She looked like an innocent bystander fleeing from a gang shooting…that is until she hit me with the butt of her gun.”
“Understandable,” he said. “And you looked for her, right?”
“Sir, the first thing I did after turning his gang over to processing was to go his house to tell his wife that her husband was dead. When there was no answer, I got the super to unlock the door for a welfare check. Nothing looked like they weren’t coming back. There were clothes in the closet, food in the fridge.”
“How much time have you dedicated to looking for her?”
Frankie swallowed the lump rising in her throat. Captain Becker had been her mentor since she was a beat cop, and she respected him like no other, and if she was ashamed of anything, it would be that she had disappointed him.
“Sir, we swept the neighborhood and the entire borough. I’ve talked to every store owner, every Mahjong joint and her favorite casinos in Jersey. Nothing. No one knows anything. Or if they do, they aren’t going to tell me, and half-Chinese won’t cut it, not when I’m also a cop.”
As if regretting his earlier gruff tone, he lowered his voice. “Bensonhurst used to be all Italian. And to think we thought the Chinese would be easier.” His fingers did a tap-tap-tap on his desk. “Something is off. Bert Wong is dead his wife is missing… wait. What about the money from the poker table? Did one of his gang have it?”
Frankie momentarily shuttered her eyes, running through the scene again. “No. The plan was to separate Bert from his gang at processing, put him in the safe house until the trial. I didn’t think about the borrowed money we used to lure them. Wait … she was clutching a handbag to her chest. It was the sort of thing I would expect a frightened woman to do, but I should’ve guessed something was off after she hit me with the butt of her gun.” Frankie’s eyes lit with the realization. “That handbag … she must’ve taken the money after she shot him. I profiled every member of Bert’s gang. His second man, Roland Chieu was more likely to want to knock off his boss than his wife. What could possibly be her motive?”
He held up a hand. “A rumor I just confirmed.”
Frankie sat up, her eyes focused on his. “What rumor?”
“It looks like Bert Wong was also working a deal with the Feds for Witness Protection.”
“What?! Nobody told me the Feds had a deal on the table with Bert Song.”
Captain Becker’s next words held a sour note. “Kevin Olene came by my office today. He said he told you about the Feds and thought I should know.”
Her captain’s opinion of her ex-fianceé had soured lately. Captain Becker believed no one should work undercover more than six months. Kevin had been undercover for the last two years because he liked it. It was a head game and a constant adrenalin rush he didn’t want to live without. She didn’t want to believe Kevin would deliberately withhold critical information from her. Knowledge like this could’ve saved her team a lot of grief and Kevin was seldom in the building and had absolutely no reason to know anything about the Bert Song sting. She hated to think that one of her team was a rat.
Her captain was talking. “Frankie, he said he warned you not to go through with your plans for Bert Song and his crew.”
Frankie’s jaw dropped and snapped shut. She tried to dredge up any recent conversation with Kevin that didn’t include a shouting match, or one filled with accusations and recriminations, but seeing his raised brow, she blushed and frowned.
“No Sir. Not me. I didn’t go through six months of digging into this creep’s life to ruin it by blabbing to my ex-fiancée. And right now, I can’t even remember the last time I talked to him. So the Feds had an air-tight case against Bert Song and we didn’t know about it?”
“The Feds are under no obligation to tell a local police precinct their plans, and your team was working under very strict orders for secrecy, right?”
“Yes, Sir, and if you’re asking if one of ours talked, I’ll look into it. So why would Bert’s wife shoot her husband if they had a deal for WitSec?”
“He told the Feds he didn’t want her going with him.”
Frankie shook her head. “Then why go through with the poker game?”
Her boss started to say, but Frankie beat him to it. “Oh, the bastard! He wanted his crew out of the way so he could quietly slip off with the FBI deal. And I was the patsy who could make it happen.”
Captain Becker’s shrug said she was right. “I just got the forensics on the weapon that killed Bert,” he said, “and the bullet that killed him is not from the weapon recovered from the dumpster.”
Frankie sank down in her chair. It was one surprise after the other. The preliminary report included Mai-Lin Song’s prints on the dumpster gun. It had been recently fired and its single brass was close to where Bert Song lay on the ground.
“Was it the 0.38 I picked up in the alley?”
“Nope. Forensics said the slug didn’t match the rifling on either weapon.”
“Then she had another weapon in that big purse.”
“The weapons report on that dumpster pistol had all the ear-marks of a throw away; not that the original owner would want it back even if offered, since it reeked of multiple homicides.”
Yet, everything Frankie knew about Mai-Lin Song said she had never even held a gun, much less knew how to shoot one. “So how did she come by it? Did someone purposely give it to her along with the truth about her husband’s deal with the FBI?”
“Bert’s men said they were one man short for the look-out and Bert forced her to take the gun and stand in the alley.”
Frankie said, “I’m relieved to hear this but it still doesn’t explain why she shot him.”
“There an interesting thing about the weapon Bert gave her, it had blanks in it. Maybe he was afraid she might get nervous and actually shoot someone, so he gave her a noise maker.”
Frankie shook her head. “No. He had a pass with the FBI, and he wasn’t planning on taking her with him, so he put blanks in her 0.38 so he could shoot her and call it self-defense. The devious bastard. Then if she didn’t kill him, who did?”
Without looking her in the eye, Captain Becker picked up a stack of paperwork and tapped it into a nice and straight pile. “Well, we don’t know that yet, but Bert Song is dead, and the commissioner is putting hot coals to my feet to close this case. So, it will be up to you to find Mai-Lin Song. That is, if she’s still alive.”
“She was there. She may have thought she killed him and grabbed that bag of money to get a fresh start.”
Frankie heard plenty from the women at the Chinese American center where Mai-Lin played Mah-Jong. What little money Mai-Lin had was secretly skimmed from the sweat shop she ran for her husband, so it made sense that Mai-Lin, thinking she shot her husband would see that she had to take the money bag.
Relieved to see the spotlight shifted from her to Bert Song’s missing wife she was now anxious to go over the scene again to see what she missed. She was half-way out of her chair, ready to leave, and said, “If that will be all, Sir”|?”
“Not quite. The FBI isn’t happy either. They lost a valuable informant willing to go against his bosses. Now I can’t say you should’ve known about the FBI deal with Bert Song, not if Kevin didn’t tell you about it, but you’re in the hot seat on this one, kid.”
Frankie sifted through the few conversations she’d had with Kevin since their breakup. When was the last time …?
” … either in the FBI, or in our precinct, and …”
“I’m sorry, Sir. What?”
His patience was thinning. “I said, can you think of anyone who would benefit if Bert Wong was unable to testify?”
“Besides his bosses? His second man, Roland Chieu is ambitious, but Roland was Bert’s heir apparent. That reminds me, we didn’t find Roland with Bert’s crew, but if we’re done here I’ll get some help and we’ll ….”
“They have other assignments.”
“No help from anyone. The story will be that you’re in rehab for alcohol addiction and rehab requires privacy. No phones, no visitors.”
Her heart sank. So, her excesses had come to her captain’s attention after all. But rehab had a stink on it that could erode her reputation, not to mention derailing her career.
He folded his hands over her file, his smile grim. “It would be within my rights to enforce a month of rehab on you, but that’s not what this is. This is your cover. I believe someone leaked Bert’s plan to leave behind his wife, but I don’t believe the leak was from the FBI. I hate to say it, but I think that leak is closer to home, and I have no one I trust more than you to find out who it is. Tomorrow I will let slip that you’ve been struggling ever since you shot that knife wielding psycho and any inquiries at HR will immediately come to me.”
Frankie was hoping to finally bury the incident with the knife wielding psycho. Yes, Frankie ramped up the partying with pals old and new while she waited a decision from her superiors, and partying drowned out the sound of the gunshot as it slammed into the chest of her attacker, dead before he hit the ground. And while she thought the booze would help her sleep, all it did was infest her dreams with images of a deeply disturbed man lunging at her, knife aimed at her heart. Her captain was right; this was the perfect incident to kick her to the curb.
Captain Becker reached into his desk and brought out a small cell phone and slid it across the desk. “It’s a burner phone. Cell and home numbers are on it. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to tell your family why you’re going to be out of reach, but you must turn off your cell phone by tomorrow morning.”
It made sense; SOP was no personal calls, no visitors.
Frankie picked up the phone and stuck it in her pocket
“Call me around lunch time tomorrow. By then I should have someplace for you to crash for a few weeks.”
Frankie felt as if she were going to faint.
“Frankie. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, her voice cracking.
If his smile was meant to reassure her, Frankie didn’t feel any better for it.
“And I’m to do all of this completely on my own?”
He stood and held out his hand. “I have every confidence that you can do this, Frankie. Now shake my hand so all those eyes watching us doesn’t think you’ve been fired.”
Keeping his grip on her hand, he added. “It’s not rehab, and your desk will be clear of everything except this one very important job.”
“Find Mai-Lin Song and you’ll find your snitch and the mole that destroyed two very important deals. You’ll redeem yourself to your team, the FBI, and this precinct.”
But as she turned to leave, he added, “And Frankie, do us both a favor and stay sober, okay?”
“Yes, Sir,” she said, and quietly closed the door behind her.
Just knowing that two of the guys in her unit would be terribly amused to hear she’d been sent to rehab brought the fair skin on her neck flaming again. It would be on news central She glanced up at the board where officer assignments were chalked in for the day. Tomorrow, her name would become a faint echo under someone else’s name, her desk given to that kid, David, the nail-biter, the Game of Thrones fan who would line up his action figures on her desk, never giving a thought to the last occupant, or what this job means to her.
Heading off awkward questions and the possibility of her own tears, she took the back exit out into a late afternoon as gray and ugly as her mood. Shaking off her pity party, she resolved to stay positive, but she needed to confirm her captain’s news; that Mai-Lin Song knew about her husband’s plans to leave her behind. Who told her and why? So many questions needed answers, so instead of going home, she detoured to the Brooklyn City morgue.