It was a good, clean bust and Detective Phil Weaver was feeling satisfied. He took the briefcase full of cash and the bags of heroin and locked them in his trunk. When he turned back to face the other two plainclothes detectives, Weaver couldn't help noticing a wistful expression on their faces.
"That's a lot of dough," Murphy said as he helped Rodrigo put the last of the suspects into cuffs.
"More than I make in a year," Rodrigo growled.
"I know." Weaver sounded a little wistful himself. "Half the time we come back with bupkis -- a joint bag and a few C-notes. But this ..." He sighed and shook his head. "Come on, you scum, into the vehicles."
The detectives eased their five drug-selling suspects into three unmarked vehicles, then pulled out, forming a modest parade from the boarded-up shooting gallery of East Town to the precinct house three miles away.
Ernie, the civilian lot attendant, opened the barbed wire gate and waved the cars inside. "Another one for the good guys," he said. As Ernie closed and locked the gate, Weaver, Murphy and Rodrigo escorted their charges in through the back entrance and toward the booking room.
Smithy, the desk sergeant, fell in behind them, listened to their tale of success and volunteered to help process the arrests.
"Sure," Rodrigo said. He hated paperwork more than anyone. "One of us should go out and get the evidence."
"Oh, no," Murphy chuckled. "You don't get out of it that easy. You're the fastest typist we got."
Half an hour later, Ernie, the lot attendant, came stumbling in the back way. He found no one in the hall and no one in the lounge. Ernie raced breathlessly into the precinct's reception area and found Smithy getting himself a cup of coffee.
"Someone broke into the unmarked cars," he gasped.
"What unmarked cars?" Smithy demanded.
"The three that were just out. Rodrigo, Weaver and Murphy."
Smithy raced through the building to the back lot and surveyed the scene. The three unmarked vehicles were parked among a dozen black-and-white cruisers. All three trunks had been pried open. And all three were empty.
It was barely 6 a.m., but the news spread through the half-empty station like wildfire. Smithy had barely finished questioning Ernie when Murphy, Rodrigo and Weaver emerged from the rear entrance.
"Tell me you picked up your evidence," Smithy pleaded. "Please tell me."
The three detectives exchanged sick, frightened glances.
"I reminded everyone," Rodrigo said. "But Murphy stopped us. Then some newspaper guy called, wanting details on the arrest. I didn't get his name. I stayed in the booking room talking to him until I heard about this. Weaver saw me take the call."
Weaver nodded. "That's right. Murphy and I walked the perps down to the holding cells. Then I went to the can. I've had this plumbing problem in my system ever since the wife and I got back from Cancun. I was on my way back to the booking room when I looked out the hallway window and saw Smithy and Ernie out here hanging by the vehicles. I knew something was wrong."
"Weaver should've fetched the evidence," Murphy said. "It was in his car. He had the keys. After we put them in the cells, one of the perps called me back and insisted on calling his lawyer. Then two of the others did the same thing. I was escorting those scum back and forth to the phone. You can ask 'em if you don't believe me."
Smithy snorted at the idea, then turned to Ernie. "And why was the lot unguarded?"
"It was my 5:30 break," Ernie whined. "You all know about my break. I go across to Ethel's Diner and I keep an ear out. If someone wants in or out, they honk and I'm there in a minute."
"Did you see anyone?" Weaver asked.
"No one," said Ernie. "I locked the gate before leaving and it was still locked when I got back. The only way into the lot was through the precinct house."
"We know that," Rodrigo hissed and turned to face the other four. "Seems pretty clear it was one of us."
The sergeant, the three detectives and the lot attendant gazed into the three empty trunks. "Whoever crowbarred these babies was taking a risk," said the old attendant. "I could've looked out the diner window, or someone could've walked out and seen it going down."
"But no one did," Smithy said. "And now we've got thousands of dollars and drugs stolen. Not to mention missing evidence that was needed to keep those perps behind bars."
"Not to mention another crime," Weaver said. "Right under our noses, too."