Authors: Jeff Abbott
Eve knelt by the man supposedly sent by her son. Felt his pockets. Empty. No camera with her pictures inside, no wallet, no
ID. She stood, her legs wobbly. Her foot stepped on Richard Doyle’s hand and she jumped back quickly.
There was no sign of the five million in cash Doyle was bringing to her. No duffel bag, no suitcase, nothing.
She moved through the rest of the office. There were few hiding places. Empty. The back door to the office was unlocked as
well. She pushed it open, looked back into an alleyway. Empty except for a pickup truck she knew belonged to the bar owner
in the neighboring building. And a car that looked like a rental, a nondescript Taurus. She took two steps toward it.
And heard sirens begin their cry on the moist breeze.
She shut the door, ran back through the office, back out the front. Got in her Mercedes, revved it away from the storefront.
She pulled onto McCarty, back toward Clinton, and when she was a block away she saw in her rearview mirror a Houston police
car wheel into the lot, pulling up near the bar. Someone must have heard shots and called the cops.
A car pulled out after her onto the road, from across the street, a silver Jag she recognized as Bucks’.
He revved up close behind her. In the rearview he gestured to her to stop. She slammed her foot down on the gas, accelerating
toward a red light that would put her back on Clinton.
Her cell phone beeped. Bucks’ name was on the readout. She scooped the phone up.
‘What’s the hell’s going on?’ Bucks said.
‘What?’ she screamed.
‘Why are you hauling ass out? … Why are there cops … ?’
‘They’re dead!’ she screamed.
‘Doyle and some guy. And the money’s gone.’
‘What? What guy? Pull over and let’s talk. Right now.’
Her heart felt like it suddenly exploded. Who knew about the meeting? She knew, Paul knew, Bucks knew, Doyle knew. ‘You killed
them,’ she said. ‘You shit, you took the money.’
‘No. Pull over, Eve,’ he said. The Jag drew closer; she floored her car, zoomed through another light shifting from yellow
to red, went left onto Clinton, headed for the highway. Bucks stayed with her, leaving a chorus of honking cars in his path.
‘Where’s the goddamn money?’
‘I don’t have it,’ she said. ‘You killed them, you took the money.’
His voice was quiet as death. ‘Pull over right now, Eve,’ he said. She sped on and he rammed the Jag’s bumper into her rear.
She tore the Mercedes around a pickup truck and a semi heavy with goods from the Port. The Jag wheeled around the trucks,
started to pull even with her. A sharp ping sounded, of metal hitting metal. He was shooting at her.
She veered across the lines, into oncoming traffic,
accelerating toward a truck that laid heavy on its horn. The truck roared off the road, plowing into a lumberyard’s wire
fencing and a parked pickup. She glanced over, saw Bucks closing on her, rounding a station wagon, edging past a braking semi.
Eve tore back into the northbound lane as another truck thundered past, missing her by inches, and cut off Bucks. She aimed
left, onto the entrance ramp for 610. A scream of metal sounded behind her. In the rearview she saw the Jag swerve around
the back end of another service truck, piping and a ladder flying free from the truck, Bucks peeling away, the left side of
his Jag damaged. But still coming.
Now on the ramp, she jammed the accelerator to the floor, hurtling into midafternoon Houston traffic, pounding on the wheel,
going up the immediate rise of the bridge.
He came up fast after her, nearly clipping another semi carrying Hondas in a zigzag stack, ripping across lanes, leaving a
wake of slamming brakes and screeching horns. Firing at her. Two bullets hit the edge of her rear windshield, ricocheting
off. She swerved to the left, nearly colliding with a frightened woman in a pickup truck, a child in the passenger seat, screaming
at Eve in terror, and Eve tore back to the right, away from them, thinking, that’s it, he’ll hit me.
But as they rushed down the incline of the bridge, Bucks went left, getting the pickup between him and her, and as he sheered
back to follow her she darted into the speed lane, flooring the pedal, moving in and out of the array of trucks, cars now
trying to get out of their way. A cloverleaf exchange came up; Eve went toward the exit that would put her on 610 E and watched
him try to follow, and then she wrenched the wheel, bolted across every lane and hit the ramp for 1-45 to Galveston. He
couldn’t get over, nearly spun out trying, and two cars behind him rammed into each other. Brakes squealed. She couldn’t
see him then, merging into traffic now. But he didn’t come up in her rearview. She drove toward the coast, finally taking
an exit after ten minutes. She’d lost him. She waited for another fifteen minutes, then ventured back onto 1-45. When she
reached the 610 interchange traffic was backed up, two wrecked cars being cleared. No one looked hurt but there was no sign
of the Jag in the few seconds she had to scan the stalled cars. She took 610 to Kirby, a major thoroughfare that threaded
back into the heart of Houston.
The coldness in his voice played over again in her head, ordering her to stop. Shooting at her, determined to kill her. Sure.
She was the last witness.
Bucks had killed Doyle and the other guy, taken the five million. And now he was going to accuse her of taking it. He said,
she said, and who would Paul believe?
She knew the answer.
She pulled into a bagel shop parking lot. She fumbled for the phone, called Paul. Tell him. No answer except for Paul’s voice
mail. She said, ‘I don’t have the money, I didn’t take it, and if Bucks says different he’s a goddamned liar. He took it,
he’s trying to kill me. Don’t believe him. Call me, please, Paul. Please.’
Paul had to believe her. He had to know she was telling the truth. But, oh God, Frank had helped himself to money, Paul had
threatened them both, he would believe she was ripe to run, the five million fueling her engines.
She steadied her hands on the wheel. She needed a place to go, a way to talk to Paul that didn’t put her at risk. Not face-to-face
right now, that would be suicide if she’d been set up. And Frank. If they thought she’d taken the money they’d go after dumb
I’ll have his tongue cut out
, he had said.
She dialed Frank’s phone. No answer.
Run, she thought. Run like hell. She tore out of the parking lot.
‘What is the difference between a tick and a lawyer?’ Charlie Fulgham asked.
Whit and his friend Gooch waited.
The tick falls off you when you die. What do you call a lawyer who doesn’t chase ambulances?’ Charlie shifted his balance,
brightened his smile.
‘Retired,’ Whit said, praying this ended the routine.
‘Man, but you’re a judge,’ Charlie said. ‘You’ve heard them all.’ He shook his head, leaned against the doorway, stuck his
hands in his pockets.
‘Look,’ Whit said, ‘a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.’
‘That’s even older,’ Charlie said.
‘And lamer,’ Gooch said in his throaty, low rumble.
‘My problem is, I don’t got a good comedy routine if I tell jokes. I have to tell stories, but if I tell stories on my former
clients, I get sued. Vicious circle.’
‘Aren’t most of them in jail?’ Gooch asked.
‘Only the guilty ones,’ Charlie said.
‘Thanks again, Charlie, for putting us up on such short notice,’ Whit said. ‘This sure beats Holiday Inn.’ Whit walked to
the guest bedroom’s window. Charlie’s house was in the tony West University Place section of Houston, near the Texas Medical
Center and Rice University, old homes full of old money and new money and well-scrubbed families.
Charlie Fulgham didn’t look like a sharkish lawyer. He was boyishly heavy and apple-cheeked, with thick blond hair, wearing
a summer Lilly Pulitzer shirt in the winter and rumpled khakis.
‘You’re welcome,’ Charlie said. ‘Yours to use. I’m heading out of town tomorrow. Got a gig in San Antonio. At an actual comedy
‘Is it amateur night?’ Gooch stretched his massive arms above his head, gave a jaw-cracking yawn.
‘So I’m not very good yet,’ Charlie said, ‘but I’m totally fearless. A club’s just a courtroom with drinks.’
‘Except everyone is sitting in judgment of you,’ Whit said.
‘Go back to practicing law, Charlie,’ Gooch said. ‘I’m horrified that wealthy scum of Houston may be lacking representation.’
‘I need a good society murder,’ Charlie said. ‘People have way too much self-control these days.’
Gooch said, ‘Talk about being engaged three times but never married That’s a hell of a lot funnier.’
‘Yes, but that rips my heart open,’ Charlie said.
‘Comedy is pain, bubba,’ Gooch said.
‘Especially mine. I got to go work on my act. I got good lines about mold lawsuits. Y’all stay as long as you need to.’
‘I don’t expect we’ll be here long, Charlie. Thank you again,’ Whit said.
‘Sure.’ Charlie closed the door behind him and they heard the tread of his step going down the wooden stairs.
‘Nice guy,’ Whit said. ‘That audience is in for a laugh-a-minute treat.’
‘That boy’d rather humiliate himself in front of an audience that’s gonna boo him off stage than take another case and a big
fat retainer. I hope he makes it. I can’t afford for him to get poor and stop his sport fishing.’
Whit dialed Harry Chyme’s cell phone. He left a message: ‘Harry, it’s Whit. Call me.’
Gooch cracked his knuckles. ‘Let’s talk about the
Bellinis. About a plan of action.’ Gooch bent over his duffel bag, pulled out a gleaming Sig Sauer, handed it to Whit. ‘Know
your world and get the right spear for it, grasshopper. This is for you. Like I said, this is the only thing the Bellinis
Whit held the gun. Beautiful, he thought, although he had never been one much for guns. He knew how to shoot, but it felt
awkward and heavy in his hand. ‘This won’t be necessary.’
‘Shows what you know about mob families.’
‘Harry said my mother’s boyfriend runs a high-end strip joint for the Bellinis.’
Gooch took the gun from Whit’s hands. ‘Charlie says Paul Bellini owns Club Topaz. Let’s start there.’
‘I don’t think my mother’s working there, Gooch.’
‘Why don’t you go to the strip club? See what you can see. I got another angle I’d like to work.’
‘I’m calling the shots, Gooch. You understand? I know you’re treating this like a secret mission, but it’s my family problem.
I want to handle it my way.’
‘Yes, Your Honor.’
‘Tell me I heard sincerity,’ Whit said.
‘I’m deceit-free right this minute.’
‘What’s this other angle?’
Gooch watched the tree limbs rocking near the window as the wind stirred them. ‘You can try to find your mother at a Bellini
hangout. Present yourself as Whit Mosley, nothing to hide, a guy trying to find his mom. Or you can convince Harry that now
you’re here, he needs to tell you what he knows and not shield you from the big bad truth. Or … take a more aggressive approach.’
‘Let’s say you find her, Whit. And she has no interest in seeing you or in a sweet little reunion with your dad
before he dies. I’d say toss her over your shoulder and haul her to Port Leo. That’s kidnapping, although I can’t imagine
a jury would convict you and she wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy if she pressed charges.’ Gooch let a crooked smile creep
across his ugly, kind face. ‘The problem is the Bellinis. They probably don’t take kindly to a guy coming in and hijacking
key members of their family. So let me kidnap her; you keep your hands clean.’
Whit paced to the bed. ‘Thanks, but no, Gooch. She’ll come with me.’
‘Why? There’s nothing in her interest to make her do so.’
‘She’ll come,’ he said again.
‘Whit,’ Gooch said, his voice going quiet. ‘Man, I do not want to screw with your head. The bitch—’
‘Don’t call her that.’
‘St Ellen has had thirty years to make amends. She wouldn’t know you if she walked past you on the street. What, she sees
you, she suddenly cares? A heart grows where there was stone?’
‘Did you read that in a bad poem?’
‘I wrote that in a bad poem.’
‘So your backup plan is to kidnap her and keep the Bellinis at bay?’ Whit said. ‘You’re a freaking strategic genius.’
‘I’m trying to save you time.’ Gooch shook his head. ‘So what’s it gonna be?’
‘I’m going to see if my new Plan A works first.’
‘What’s Plan A?’
‘Find her,’ Whit said. ‘And get her away from these people. If I can talk to her, really have a conversation with her … that’s
all I need to do.’
‘You have an unrelenting and hopelessly naive belief in the goodness of people, Whit. Why should she talk to you?’
‘I’m not so good, Gooch. There’s a man she knew in Montana,’ Whit said. ‘I mention his name, I’ll get her undivided attention.’
Night had begun its fall, and the mercury lights pooled over the lot of Club Topaz. Paul Bellini stood at the window of Frank
Polo’s office, watching the valets park cars, the blood hammering in his head, in his chest. He took a calming breath. He
liked to play a game with himself, look at the cars, figure out how much money each driver would spend. A Porsche would be
a guy who would drop a couple of hundred, because it was himself and a friend. Your Lexuses, BMWs, Mercedes, often four to
five guys together, up to a thousand easy. Best of all would be a little fleet of cabs and limos arriving: those meant groups,
bachelor parties, sports teams, packs of young wolves ready to lay out serious cash. The lot was half full; it was still early
for a Thursday, but the empty parking slots pissed him off.
Paul closed the heavy shades of the office with a flick of a button. The little whir of the device was the only sound in the
room, except for the labored breathing and soft crying of Frank Polo.
‘Where is she, Frank?’ Paul asked. His voice was kind, a quiet murmur of buddyhood. A whisper between friends.
‘Oh, Christ, I don’t know,’ Frank Polo sobbed. He sat, curled up on the chair. Paul had punched him twice in the ribs, backhanded
him. Frank’s lip was swelling, would purple before long.
‘You hear from her?’
‘She left two messages on my cell phone. Crazy ones. They don’t make sense.’
‘Nothing makes sense right now, Frank,’ Paul said, his
voice an ooze of concern. ‘I got five million in cash missing. I got two people who could’ve took it, Bucks and Eve. Bucks
comes running straight to me, tells me what happened. Eve runs.’
Bucks sat in the corner, pouting, bleeding from his own mouth where Paul had punched him, staring at Frank.
‘Bucks could’ve taken it …’ Frank started.
‘But you know, he isn’t already stealing from me,’ Paul said. He sat down next to Frank, touched his jaw gently. ‘Frank. This
is going to get real ugly, real fast. And I don’t want that. You’re family. Help me understand this.’
‘I really, truly don’t know where she is,’ Frank said. ‘I haven’t talked to her.’
‘You don’t help me, then I got to put a hit on her. That’s gonna tear my heart open, Frank.’
‘Well, don’t,’ Frank said.
‘You love Eve. Help her now. Tell me where she is, so we can talk to her.’
‘I don’t love her if she stole five fucking million from you,’ Frank said. ‘It’s over between her and me if she’s turned traitor.’
He wet his lips with his tongue, looked up at Paul, like a dog looking shyly to nuzzle a stranger’s hand.
‘Now. Eve called you.’
‘Yeah. I forgot my cell phone, left it here. Stayed a long time at lunch. Then ran errands. I came back here, got to glad-handing
with an early group, a bunch of Japanese businessmen. I didn’t come back up to my office until an hour ago.’
‘Play me the messages on your phone,’ Paul said.
‘I erased them, I wasn’t thinking straight.’
Paul frowned. ‘What did she say in the messages? And don’t you lie to me. I start snapping fingers if you do.’ And he took
Frank’s hand, ran a fingertip along the finger
and palm, and positioned the middle finger between his own, bent it back, ready to break.
Frank gasped. ‘She said Doyle and another dink had gotten shot at the exchange point, the money was gone, Bucks had tried
to kill her and for me not to go home.’
‘Where did she want you to go?’
‘She wanted to meet me at the Neiman’s at the Galleria. At five.’ It was already past seven.
‘Where you been this afternoon? What the hell were these errands?’
‘I went over to the Platinum Club. They got new dancers, girls we ought to have.’
‘You spent the afternoon ogling tits while your girlfriend stole five million from me,’ Paul said, giving the finger a little
twist. Wondering if the snapping bone would sound like a twig or louder, like a pencil.
‘Uhhh,’ Frank moaned. ‘Jason, the bartender at Platinum … he’ll tell you I was there. And I talked to two of the girls that
we want to recruit for Topaz. Ginger and Anita. They’ll vouch for me.’
Paul let go of his hand, turned to a muscular man with dyed-blond hair standing near the door. ‘Gary, call the Platinum. See
if his story checks out.’ Gary stepped out of the office.
‘I need that cash, Frank,’ Paul said. ‘We got a deal going down late tonight, and now I got to call them and postpone. How
do you think that looks to a man like Kiko?’ He glanced over at Bucks. ‘Get a couple of guys over to Neiman’s, have them walk
the Galleria. And keep a guy watching Eve and Frank’s place.’
‘I’ll take care of that,’ Bucks said. ‘Personally.’
Paul cocked his head. ‘Frank here could be right and you’re lying to me.’
Bucks blinked. ‘I’m not. I’m here, Eve isn’t. This isn’t complicated.’
‘You tried to strangle her and nearly pulled a gun on her last night,’ Frank said. ‘She’s given her life to this family and
you dare to touch her …’
‘She tried to call off the exchange, Frank,’ Bucks said. ‘Told Paul there were cops watching. Well, that was a lie. There
weren’t any cops there.’
Frank swallowed. Bucks gave him a thin trap of a smile.
‘Where else would she go, Frank?’ Paul went to the wall of Frank’s office. He ran a finger along the three platinum records:
‘Baby, You’re My Groove’; ‘Boogie City’; ‘When You Walk Away.’ He took down ‘Baby’ and shattered the framed record on the
corner of Frank’s desk.
‘Oh, God, not my disks!’ Frank stood in horror.
Paul picked up a jagged shard and turned back to Frank. ‘Tell me where she is, Frank.’
‘Jesus, Paul!’ Frank screamed. ‘This is me, please!’
‘This is you between me and five million,’ Paul said. ‘Where would she go?’
Frank swallowed. ‘Not to our house. She won’t come to the club or any of our hangouts.’
‘She got a place she goes when she’s stressed?’
‘What, you think she went for a spa treatment?’ Bucks said. Paul shot him a look and he went silent.
‘If she took the money,’ Frank said slowly, ‘she won’t be staying in town. If he’s framed her’ – he nodded toward Bucks –
‘she’s probably gonna go back to Detroit. Where people have sense.’
‘Be very careful, old man,’ Bucks said.
‘Paul. Get real. You think Eve took that money? Seriously?’ Frank pleaded.
‘You been skimming club money from me, way more than’s acceptable. I know you have.’
Bucks said, ‘Hasn’t there been a big outbreak of initiative around here?’
‘So,’ Paul said, ‘it’s not a big jump to Eve deciding to take a lump payment and retire.’
‘She would have taken me with her. She didn’t,’ Frank said.
‘So you say. She’s been bitching about the way I fart ever since Dad got hurt. She doesn’t like how I’m running things. She
knows she’s gonna be retired. You’ve screwed the pooch big time, Frank. So she takes the money and runs.’ Paul leaned down
close to his face, ran the tip of the jagged vinyl along Frank’s eyebrows. ‘Where’s the money you took?’
‘I stashed it in an account in a bank in Katy,’ Frank said. Katy was a distant suburb west of Houston, a nice quiet town,
known for good schools, football, and big malls.
‘All ninety thousand?’
‘I haven’t spent it. It was a loan I was gonna pay back in a few months. With interest.’
Paul shook his head. ‘Loan? Do I look like an ATM, Frank? You see any fucking buttons on my front?’
‘Why did you want a loan?’
Frank worked his mouth. ‘I wanted to cut a new record …’
Bucks laughed, short and sharp.
‘I’m gonna cut you a new record,’ Paul said. ‘Right after I cut off your fingers and your balls and your ears.’
‘Please, Paul …’ Frank’s voice broke. ‘I’ll do whatever you want to make it right …’
Paul let go of Frank’s shirt, took a step back. ‘That ninety thousand, it’s not so bad. Not nearly as bad as what Eve did
to me. I tell you what. You get her and the five mil for me, you can keep the ninety thou.’
‘Paul, you’re gonna let him get away with that?’ Bucks said.
‘You shut up,’ Paul said. ‘You find Eve, Bucks, you can have the ninety thou.’
Bucks shut up.
‘I’m not trusting either of you too much at the moment,’ Paul said. ‘That’s why you both got to prove your loyalty. Bring
her to me. Think of it as a modified contract. You two boys are the only bidders.’ He glared at Frank. ‘You give me your Katy
account info and I’m moving that money back where it belongs.’
‘Sure, Paul,’ Frank said.
‘You steal one more cent from this club, and I’m going to kill you. With this broken record. An inch at a time.’
‘I understand, Paul.’
‘Not an inch. I’m going fucking metric. A centimeter at a time.’
‘I understand, Paul.’
‘I don’t think you do, Frank,’ Paul said, and he reached out, grabbed Frank’s hand, turned the palm skyward, and with one
swipe of the shard laid the flesh open. Blood spurted. Frank screamed. Paul shoved him to the floor. Frank clutched the torn
hand to his chest.
‘Next time, I’m slicing your dick,’ Paul said. ‘Now call Doc Brewer and get yourself sewed up.’
Frank staggered toward the phone. ‘You go downstairs and call the doctor. Get out of my sight. You get blood on the carpet
I’m cutting the other hand,’ Paul said.
Frank tucked his hand inside his suit jacket and fled from the room.
‘He’s lying,’ Bucks said. ‘He knows where she is.’
‘Nah,’ Paul said. ‘No way he’d come back here if he knew.’ Paul gave him a smirk. ‘He’s an old guy and a has-been. He was
stupid. You’re not stupid, are you, Bucks?’
‘Good. Because I got a couple of soldiers searching
your crib right now. They’re not going to find five mil in cash there, are they?’
‘No. I told you I don’t have it. Thanks for the vote of confidence, man.’ Bucks stood, squared his shoulders. ‘You brought
me into this business, Paul. I owe you everything. I’m not going to betray you. We both know that.’
‘You had the same opportunity as Eve.’
‘You hired me,’ Bucks said. ‘But you inherited her.’
‘Tell me again what you saw.’
Bucks took a breath. ‘I was running late getting to the exchange …’
‘Fender bender on 1-10. Two lanes closed for about fifteen minutes, traffic sucked.’ Bucks shrugged.
‘I get to Alvarez. Door’s open. I go in, find Doyle and this guy dead. Bodies still warm. No sign of the money.’ He paused.
‘I check Doyle’s pockets. His wallet, his ID’s gone. The man doesn’t have ID on him. The smell of gunfire is still fresh.
There’s even a casing on the floor. I pick it up, pocket it. Then I get the hell out, being sure I’m not leaving prints.’
He tented his fingers. ‘I pull the Jag across the street, start to call you, and then here I see Eve tearing back into the
lot. She goes inside. I wait to see what happens, then she comes tearing out before the cops show.’
‘If she had killed them and taken the money while you were stuck in traffic, why the hell would she come back?’
Bucks held up the casing. ‘She found she was missing one and came back for it.’
‘Eve would be thorough if she planned a heist like this.’
‘She’s Hot a hit man, Paul. She could have missed a casing in a panic. Or she was coming back for another reason.’ Bucks put
the casing on the desk.
‘Her coming back was a huge risk.’ Doubt in his voice.
‘I’m telling you what I saw. Even a lady sharp as Eve isn’t going to think straight all the time.’
‘I don’t like not knowing who the man was with Doyle.’ Paul sat down. ‘I want you to find out. The cops are going to be looking
closely at a banker getting killed down at the Port. They’ll come after us if they make the connection between my dad and
‘First they have to make the connection,’ Bucks said.
Paul shook his head. ‘This is like finding out your favorite aunt is a two-dollar whore. It’s depressing.’
‘People often disappoint.’
‘You better not,’ Paul said. ‘I’m trusting you, man. Find her. Find the money. See if we can push back the deal with Kiko
until Saturday night. But he can’t know we don’t have the green. He knows that, we’re dead in the water. No one will supply
us. That money’s the starting point for us.’
‘Starting point,’ Bucks said.
‘The reason I wanted you working with me,’ Paul said, ‘is that I’m going to be bigger than my dad ever was. I need your expertise
a lot more than I need muscle with guns. We’re gonna run Houston, Bucks. And when we’ve got that base to work from, I’m going
after the men that humiliated my father, that drove him out of Detroit. Barici. Vasco. Antonelli. They’re dried-up old men
now. The racketeering laws have broken most of them. They worry so much about the Feds, they won’t see me coming, but I’m
going to annihilate them and they won’t be able to touch me.’ He jabbed a finger at Bucks, his face reddening. ‘But I need
this deal to jump-start us. To build a stronger power base with an ally like Kiko.’
‘You’re not mob anymore,’ Bucks said quietly. ‘With all due respect, Paul, leave it alone. They’re old men.
They don’t have nearly the power they once did. What’s to be gained from it?’
‘Eve knows those guys. She could run to them with the money, if she wanted. They’d give her sanctuary, shelter. She’s old
school. She and them, they’d understand each other. She knows how I work. So you got to find her and the money. I’m not gonna
let my family be humiliated again.’
‘If I can’t find her—’ Bucks started.
‘Hey, Bucks,’ Paul said. ‘If you don’t find her, nobody’s ever gonna find you.’