Authors: Jeff Abbott
The door eased open behind him.
‘Room’s taken,’ Cold Smile called, not glancing back. ‘Try one down, please.’ Spicing his voice with a little friendliness.
‘But I like this room.’ Gooch slammed the door behind him. Locked it. A knock immediately followed, a young woman’s voice
barely audible on the other side of the door. ‘It’s the dorks-with-guns room.’
‘Get out, man.’ Cold Smile darted a glance back at Gooch but pushed the barrel’s point deeper into Whit’s forehead.
‘I will. And I’m gonna go straight back to Detroit and have a little talk with Joe Vasco. You know him. The guy who ran the
Bellinis out of Detroit.’
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Your better half,’ Gooch said. ‘You shoot my friend, Vasco’s guys fly down from Detroit, take your stringy ass
out to the bayous, and feed you to the gators a pound at a time. Shouldn’t take more than three or four days for you to die.’
‘Vasco,’ Cold Smile repeated.
‘Yeah,’ Gooch said. Cold Smile lowered the gun. Whit didn’t move. The gun wasn’t screwed into his skull now. He started breathing
‘What’s your name?’ Cold Smile asked.
‘What’s yours?’ Gooch said.
‘They call me Bucks,’ the guy said.
‘Bucks?’ Gooch asked, a smile on his face for the first time. ‘As in money, or as in rhymes with fucks and sucks, like you’re
a prison bitch?’
‘As in money,’ Bucks said in a dead cold voice.
‘I’m Leonard.’ It was Gooch’s real first name, rarely used. ‘The guy you’re threatening is Michael.’ It was Whit’s middle
name, never used.
‘And you’re from Vasco?’
‘You’re catching on quick. Is calculus your hobby?’ Gooch asked.
‘I’ll go get Paul.’
Gooch shook his head. ‘No need to rush to Paul and tell him we’re here.’
‘He doesn’t know?’
‘That’s the way Mr Vasco wants it. Ever since Tommy’s in the hospital, Vasco’s wanting to see what Paul does. Wants to make
sure he’s sticking by the agreement. Staying out of Detroit. Staying out of the business. No drug dealing, no money cleaning,
no illegal activities.’
Bucks frowned. ‘Whatever we’re doing in Houston is frankly none of Mr Vasco’s concern.’
‘Pull your head out of your Brooks Brothers ass, son. If we tell Mr Vasco that Paul is stepping out of bounds, getting into
lines of work that aren’t his to go into, then he’ll send a few ill-tempered gentlemen to straighten you
dinks out and you’ll be one unhappy, mostly dead wanna-be,’ Gooch said.
‘That’s assuming you get back to Detroit,’ Bucks said, and Whit saw the momentary fear leave the man’s face, replaced by brittle
anger. Gooch had gone too far.
‘Man, cool it,’ Whit said. He glanced at Gooch. ‘You cool it, too. Let’s talk, all right?’ His face ached and the skin under
his eye was already beginning to throb. He was going to have a shiner, and a sudden rage boiled at him. This guy knew his
mother, saw her, knew her business. He wanted to pound his fist into Bucks’ mouth.
‘Why’d you lie about the money? Why didn’t you say you were from Vasco?’ This thought, moments late, made Bucks’ voice rise
and he turned back to face Whit. Gooch’s fist slammed into the back of Bucks’ head, drove him down to the floor.
‘Because you’re nothing but an ass wiper.’ Gooch made his voice more growl than talk. ‘Because we don’t owe you an explanation.
You understand me?’
Whit knelt, took Bucks’ gun from him. Now pounding rocked the door, a key fumbled in the lock. Whit placed the gun on the
table, his hand near it.
Two thick-necked guys came into the room, staring at Gooch, at Whit with his clearly just-punched face, at Bucks now sitting
on the floor.
‘What’s going on, Bucks?’ one asked.
‘Friends of mine,’ Bucks said, ‘playing a joke on me. Everything’s fine.’ He gave a nervous little laugh.
The two muscles looked at Gooch and Whit again.
‘Sorry I had to keep Miss O’Malley out of the room after she brought me up,’ Gooch said. ‘Part of the joke.’
The two muscles looked at Bucks.
‘Nicky, it’s fine. It’s cool. Tell Desire we’ll give her a big tip for her trouble,’ Bucks said, standing.
‘Yeah, I got a big tip for her,’ Gooch said, and now the men laughed.
‘It’s all cool. We’ll be down in a minute,’ Bucks said, and the two men backed out and shut the door behind them.
‘You see how it is?’ Bucks said. ‘I give the order, they’d kill you.’
‘I see they’d try. Detroit’s watching,’ Gooch said. ‘You remember that.’
‘So what happens if Detroit doesn’t like what they see?’ Bucks asked.
‘I wouldn’t be too loyal to Paul,’ Whit said. Bucks looked over at him again, as if for the first time. ‘We want to talk to
Bucks tented his cheek with his tongue, made a clicking sound in his mouth. ‘She’s not around the club often.’
‘Give us a home number then. An address,’ Gooch said.
Bucks didn’t say anything for several seconds, as though chewing over his choices. ‘She’s out of town for a day or so.’
‘Do you have a cell phone number for her?’ Gooch asked.
‘No, sure don’t,’ Bucks said. ‘Call me later.’ He took a pen from his pocket; Whit could see the bulge of a cell phone inside.
As Bucks jotted the number on a napkin, Whit took a step to one side.
‘One question,’ Whit said and as Bucks turned toward him Whit popped him with a right jab, below the eye, left of the nose.
Then another. Hard. Bucks staggered back, fell on the floor.
‘Now we match,’ Whit said. He grabbed the gun from the table, pointed it at Bucks, and reached into the man’s coat pocket
for the cell phone.
‘Hey …’ Bucks said.
‘Shut up or I’ll dig this in your forehead like you did
me.’ Whit turned on the phone, found the address book, clicked through the numbers listed inside,
was one. He committed the number to memory and dropped the phone on Bucks’ chest.
‘You did have her number,’ Whit said. ‘That’s one lie you’ve told us. You don’t get two, asshole.’
Bucks found Tasha in the dancers’ changing room, buds nestled in her ears, swaying to music in front of the mirror. He yanked
out an ear bud, heard the thin thump of her song. ‘Where the hell is Paul?’
‘Up in a private room. Alone.’ She glared at him over her shoulder.
‘No time for you anymore?’ he said. In the mirror he was watching her chest, covered by thin white Lycra. She’d taken off
all the computer crap; it lay in a jumble on her makeup table, like a system undergoing repair.
She took out the other earphone. ‘He’s watching a basketball game. He’s in a real sour mood.’
‘Word is you’re his new girl.’
‘That blond guy you were talking with.’
‘What’d you talk about?’
‘He’s a scout for a movie production company. Looking to film a few scenes here.’ She examined her lipstick in the mirror.
Bucks was silent. ‘He run a tab?’
‘Yeah. Why?’ Now she watched his face in the mirror.
‘No reason. A movie here, that’d be cool.’
She said nothing, watching him with a wry smile.
‘What’s your problem?’ he said.
‘Did you get punched in the eye? It’s starting to swell,’ Tasha said. ‘Paul isn’t going to like that.’
‘Why would he care?’
‘A black eye, that’s a good advertisement for a bad-ass. Really shows you command respect.’
‘I fell on the stairs, hit the railing,’ he said, and as soon as the words were out he regretted them, saw she knew he was
lying. Little Miss Smart Mouth, uppity and acting like her brain was as big as her tits. He wanted to reach out, grab those
perfect breasts, and twist them in a fierce squeeze until she screamed. But she was Paul’s now. If Kiko Grace or these Detroit
dinks had their way, Paul would go for a long swim in Galveston Bay. And Miss Smart Mouth could join Paul, when Bucks was
through with her.
‘You should be more careful on that thick carpet,’ she said. ‘Watch your step.’
‘Don’t you need to go shake your tits for the slack-jawed masses?’ he said.
‘I doubt Paul wants you talking to me that way,’ she said, and left as Red Robin, sweaty from a lap dance, came in to towel
‘Hey, sugar,’ Bucks said. He had decided being real sweet was a good idea right now.
Robin gave him a quick kiss. ‘Hi. What happened to your eye, baby?’
‘Fell and hit the staircase, like a dumbass.’
Robin kissed the mark by his eye. ‘Angel baby. I’ll go to the kitchen, get you an ice bag.’
‘In a minute. I want you to do me a favor. Keep an eye on Tasha. Tell me what she’s up to.’ Bucks put his arms around her,
gave her another short little kiss.
‘Up to? She’s shaking her ass, just like me. Not up to anything.’
‘I want to be sure she’s not screwing over Paul.’
‘Um, okay,’ Robin said. ‘I’ll keep an eye on her. We staying at your place tonight?’
‘It’s gonna be a late night, sweetie. Deals and all. You go on home. I’ll see you tomorrow night.’
‘Let me get you that ice pack.’
‘Get it to go. I got things to do.’ He gave her an affectionate swat on her thonged rear as she went out the door.
Bucks went back into the club, found the waitress who’d waited on the table in question. The charge card was to Whitman Mosley.
The ugly jerk who had come up to the room with Desire O’Malley hadn’t used a credit card, had paid strictly cash.
Whitman Mosley. The name did not ring a bell. Maybe the guy was using a pseudonym that would not be recognized as a Vasco
loyalist from Detroit. But the guys’ story … well, he didn’t quite believe it. Because they were too interested in Eve. Didn’t
ask about the other players in the Houston organization. And the blond guy had a too-weird, nervous-sad look on his face when
Bucks talked about Eve. None of it sounded right to him.
He dialed his cell phone, calling Nicky, one of the guys who’d interrupted his discussion with the two men.
‘Yeah?’ Nicky said.
‘You following them?’
‘Yeah. About six cars back. Now we’re on Buffalo Speedway. They’re driving aimlessly. Like they’re deciding where to go.’
‘Don’t lose them,’ he said. ‘I will kill you if you lose them.’ He clicked off the phone, stepped back out into the thrum
of the club.
He should call Kiko. He didn’t want to.
He took a calming breath. Go deep, he thought. Be centered. Keep your focus on the goal. Many will seek to pull the goal away
from you. Destroy them. But never lose sight of the goal.
Bucks walked upstairs to Frank Polo’s office. Frank was there, sitting on the couch, his hand now neatly stitched. A glass
of pinot grigio sat on the side table, beaded with cold. The Bellinis had a doctor on call who liked
discounted cocaine, didn’t mind house calls, and thought discreetness a saintly virtue. The doctor was leaving now, and he
nodded politely at Bucks, then looked again at him.
‘You want a compress for your eye? It’s gonna go shiner,’ Doc Brewer said.
‘No, thank you.’
The doctor left.
Bucks sat down next to Frank. Handed him the cold glass of wine. Put a hand on Frank’s shoulder.
‘Let’s be realistic. I can’t compete with you on landing the ninety thousand.’ Bucks shrugged. ‘Eve’s gonna contact you. You
know it. I know it.’
Frank swallowed a gulp of the wine. Then another, watching Bucks. Waiting.
‘We’re on Paul’s shit list. But he still has faith in both of us. Or we’d be heading for the bay right now.’
‘He’s pretty goddamned mad.’
‘He’s mad, yes. But Frank, you and I are all he has left to make a go of this deal with Kiko. He needs you and me to be his
team to help make it happen.’ Bucks slid into his business-meeting voice, smooth, ready to rally the troops. ‘You help us
find Eve and I guarantee I can get him to forgive your stealing. You can even keep the ninety thou.’
‘A team.’ Frank considered the idea, tenting his cheek with his tongue. ‘Fine, Bucks, we’re a team. So don’t lord over me
that I made a mistake, okay? It was a loan.’
‘I understand,’ Bucks said. ‘I do, man. I know what tough times are like. I wish you’d asked us for the money up front.’
‘Paul might have said no.’
‘To you? Never. You’re the closest thing to a dad he’s got.’
Frank held up his bandaged hand.
‘Okay, an uncle, then.’
‘Sucking up isn’t you,’ Frank said. ‘You don’t have to bother trying with me, Bucks.’
Bucks gave him a crooked smile. ‘Fine. Are we supposed to believe you manipulated credit cards and book entries on your own
to the tune of ninety grand? You’re a singer. You’re not an accountant. Eve set it up, didn’t she?’
Now Frank stared into the yellow of his wine.
‘Didn’t she, Frank?’ Bucks said quietly.
‘She might’ve,’ Frank said after a moment.
‘Ah. A breakthrough,’ Bucks said. ‘But your girlfriend took off, left you holding the bag. You can pick ’em, Frank.’
‘I’ve not been lucky with women,’ Frank said. ‘Most singers aren’t.’
‘Artistic temperament,’ Bucks said. ‘Joe Vasco.’
Frank made the sign of the evil eye.
‘Am I supposed to know what that means?’ Bucks said.
‘I can’t stand Joe Vasco.’
‘You been in touch with him, huh? Wanting old friends to take over Tommy’s ops now that Paul’s pissing you off?’
‘Joe Vasco isn’t my friend,’ Frank said. ‘He’s not a friend to any friend of Tommy Bellini.’
‘Let’s be sure of that, Frank. You and Eve, you’re not on a new payroll?’
‘If I was, then I wouldn’t need to borrow ninety grand, would I?’
‘Point taken,’ Bucks said.
Frank’s Valiumed smile faded. ‘I’m going home.’
Bucks grabbed Frank’s bandaged hand, dug his nails into the stitches. Frank yelled. Wine sloshed onto the carpet. ‘You’re
gonna let me know if you hear from her, right, Frank?’
‘And to build our team spirit, I’m going home with you. In case Eve calls you. Now. Go downstairs and wait for me.’
Frank set down the wineglass and staggered out, his palm cradled to his chest.
Bucks dialed a number. Listened for an answer. He had to buy precious time, and now. ‘Bad news. There’s a delay about the
money,’ he said.
‘Not what I’m wanting to hear, Bucksy,’ José said.
‘They had a problem at the bank. Nothing serious. Eve couldn’t wire the full amounts back into the country. A temporary delay.
‘Kiko’s going to be upset,’ José said. ‘Highly upset.’
‘That’s your problem.’
‘Man,’ José said, ‘that’s your problem. You just don’t know it.’ He was quiet a moment. ‘You not turning on us, are you, Bucksy?
Because if you’re messing with us, we send the police that film and some buttered popcorn.’
‘You got me, I know it, okay?’ God, he hated José. And calling him
, like he didn’t know what he was doing, like he was a child. It made his skin crawl. ‘You’re going to get your money, I promise.’
‘Call us. Tomorrow morning.’ José paused. ‘With good news only.’
‘Good night,’ Bucks said. He hung up the phone. Not much time. He had to get every gun from Paul and Kiko’s sides aimed at
Eve Michaels. Make sure all the blame stayed firmly on her. Point it at Eve and these two dinks that were looking for her.
It didn’t matter why they really wanted to find her; he could paint them as her partners in crime.
The dinks. Why would Frank or Eve, who hated Vasco – he knew that part of the Bellini family history was true
– call Vasco for help? They wouldn’t. So who were these two jerks? Guys from Kiko, testing him? Or plants from Paul? Hopefully
not, hopefully just two dumbasses that Eve screwed over. But he could screw them over big time now, make them the target instead
of himself, if he played out the game right. Planned his work and worked his plan, like
Chad Channing’s Goal Winners!
tape 3 advised.
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, envisioned a to-do list with clean little checkmarks, the beauty of completion.
Next angle to work, go reassure Paul. Bucks roamed back to the party suites. He found Paul in one, leaning back from a worked-over
plate of enchiladas and a couple of empty Shiner bottles. Hiding in beer and comfort food while Bucks did the heavy lifting.
In the corner a basketball game was on, the Rockets overpowering the Jazz.
‘What happened to your eye?’ Paul asked. ‘Squeeze the wrong ass?’
‘Accident. It doesn’t hurt,’ he said. He’d break that jackass Michael/Whitman’s fingers the next time he saw him.
‘You’re not bringing me Eve’s head on a platter, or my five million,’ Paul said. ‘I’m not sure why you’re here.’
‘No, Paul, I don’t have her yet,’ Bucks said. ‘But I got an extension with Kiko. Said it was a bank problem.’
‘New problem,’ Bucks said. ‘I found a couple of guys who seem extremely interested in Eve. They might be a help to us.’
‘Guys were here looking for her, gave me a line about her cleaning money for them. Wanting to find her real
bad.’ Bucks didn’t mention their supposed Vasco connection or that they didn’t seem to know Eve’s cell phone number because
it didn’t fit into the theory he wanted to feed Paul. These two, they’re her partners, they can lead us to her,’ Bucks said.
‘Bucks.’ Paul stood, turned off the television, shrugged into his jacket. ‘If these guys know where she or the money’s at,
rip it out of ’em. Then kill them. Do your job, man. Now.’