Authors: James Swain
ALSO BY JAMES SWAIN
Jack Carpenter Series:
The Night Stalker
The Night Monster
Tony Valentine Series:
Peter Warlock Series:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 James Swain
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
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Cover design by David Drummond, Salamander Hill Design
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014950386
For Stephen Roberts
THE HOT SEAT
After his arrest at Galaxy’s casino, Billy was handcuffed and transported to the Clark County Detention Center, where he sat chained to a chair while a knuckle-dragging deputy two-finger-typed the charges against him into a desktop. He’d been busted before and managed to beat every single rap, but this bust was shaping up to be different. They’d caught him trying to escape, and that was never good. An extended stay at a gated community in the Nevada desert was his next stop if he didn’t do something fast.
Saturday was old home day at the jail, and the holding cell was standing room only. He eventually got his one phone call, which he used to call his attorney’s answering service, onto which he left a short message explaining the jam he’d gotten himself into.
He spent the night in thought. He and his crew had been made in the employee parking garage before the heist and had probably been photographed. He also had to assume that his crew had been filmed stealing the $8 million inside the casino. Witnesses would tie him to the fire alarm being pulled, and a video of him running away probably existed as well. With that much evidence, a reasonable jury would find him guilty, and his short, happy career as a cheat would come to an end.
It wasn’t looking good for the kid, but he wasn’t about to call it quits. Like his old man was fond of saying, you can lose every round of a fight, just don’t lose the last one.
Around midnight, a female voice called his name. At the cell door, he grabbed bars worn thin by inmates instinctively gripping them at chest height. Across the hall a vision named Maggie Flynn had materialized in the women’s holding cell. The orange jumpsuit actually looked good on her.
“You okay?” he asked.
“The gaming board worked me over pretty good. You’re next,” she said.
“Tomorrow. They all went home to get their beauty rest.”
“How much do they know?”
“Too much. We’re going down, Billy.”
She sounded defeated, as if the last chapter in the book had been written. He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and brought his face closer to the bars.
“I need you to fill in some holes for me,” he said. “There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t know about your deal with them. I want the whole story.”
“You think you can slip out of this one?” she asked.
She shook her head as if to say,
“You betting against me?” he asked incredulously.
“Some people got killed this afternoon at the casino, and the gaming board wants to pin it on us. We’re in their crosshairs.”
“Screw them. Now tell me about your deal, and don’t leave anything out.”
“You don’t quit, do you?”
“Quitting is for losers. Come on, what else do you have to do?”
She smiled tiredly, and then she started talking.
The next morning, a pair of deputies removed Billy from the holding cell. Along with smelling pretty rank he had a headache from listening to his cell mates jabber during the night. As he passed the women’s holding cell, Mags pressed her face to the bars and mouthed the words
Next stop was the sixth floor, where three grim-faced gaming agents and Billy’s lawyer were gathered in a windowless interrogation room. It was said that clothes made the man, and also gave him away. The gaming agents wore designer knockoffs from Jacobi’s Men’s Fashions, where you could buy three suits, three shirts, three neckties, and three pairs of socks for the ridiculously low price of $399. Many gaming agents shopped at Jacobi’s under the mistaken belief that the clothes made them look sharp. Compared to his lawyer’s five-thousand-dollar Brioni wool suit, the agents looked like circus clowns that had just piled out of a VW.
Billy pumped his lawyer’s hand. Felix Underman was as old as the Rolling Stones and sported a neat part in his shock of silver hair. Back when the mob had run the casinos, Underman had defended every wise guy, hit man, and mobster, and had earned the reputation as the best criminal defense attorney around. That was good, because Billy needed all the help he could get.
“Good morning, Billy. How are you doing?” his lawyer asked.
“I’m doing great,” he said, putting on his best front.
“These gentlemen from the gaming board want to talk to you. They think that you had something to do with a heist that happened yesterday afternoon at the Galaxy.”
“So that’s what this is about. Sure, I’ll talk with them.”
Introductions were made. The gaming board often hired law enforcement officials from other agencies to fill their top jobs, and it was easy to tell where these jokers came from. John LaBadie, chief, investigations division, sported a flat buzz cut that screamed ex-CIA. Carl Zander, deputy chief, investigations division, was as dull as an accountant, probably ex-FBI. Bill Tricaricco, director of field agents, had bad breath and a cop’s big belly. Billy had pulled the wool over Tricaricco at the Hard Rock years ago and wondered if he still held a grudge.
“So you’re the infamous Billy Cunningham,” LaBadie said. “I’ve heard your name so many times, I thought there were five of you.”
“I get around a lot,” Billy admitted.
The room had a rectangular table with an old-fashioned tape recorder and five wooden chairs. Billy sat down at the table with his lawyer, while the gaming agents remained standing.
“For your information, we’re going to record this conversation,” LaBadie said.
“By all means. My client has nothing to hide,” Billy’s lawyer said.
LaBadie started the tape recorder. He picked up a microphone and recited the date, time, and location of where the interrogation was taking place, then identified the five individuals in the room. Finished, he placed the mike down and cleared his throat.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take notes,” the lawyer said.
“Go right ahead,” LaBadie said.
Underman retrieved an alligator briefcase from the floor and placed it on the table. He lifted the lid so Billy could see the copy of that day’s
Las Vegas Review-Journal
resting inside the briefcase, but the gaming agents could not. The screaming headline was impossible to miss.
Casino Melee Leaves Seven Dead
Billy’s stomach did a flip-flop. Had one of his crew bought the farm during the heist? There was no TV or Internet in the jail, and he had no way of knowing if they’d gotten out with their skins. His eyes quickly scanned the story. Five people had died violently inside a penthouse office, while another two had been ambushed by the cops Bonnie and Clyde–style on a street behind Galaxy’s casino. The names of the dead were included in the article, and he felt the air trapped in his lungs slowly escape. The bad guys had died, and his crew was safe.
But there was more to the article than just a description of the carnage. Several Galaxy patrons had been injured as the gaming board had staged its raid, most notably “a retired businessman who’d come to Las Vegas to marry off his daughter, and been mistakenly shot by a gaming agent.” An accompanying photo showed the terrified faces of tourists fleeing the casino with a caption that read, “Can Vegas survive this nightmare?”
Underman removed a yellow legal pad and gold pen and dropped both onto the table. The briefcase was shut and returned to the floor.
Billy rocked back in his chair. Vegas was good about hiding its sins; a lot of bad things that went down here never made the news. But this story had hit the wires, and the town was in serious damage control. Underman had just dealt him a powerful hand; how he played his cards was up to him.
Five bottled waters sat on the table. He picked up one and unscrewed the top. He’d known the seven people who’d died yesterday, and he realized that they were the only ones who really knew what had gone down. Last man standing had its advantages, and by the time the water bottle was empty, he’d come up with a story for the gaming agents that just might keep him from going to prison.
“Let’s get started,” LaBadie said. “We want you to explain to us what you were doing inside Galaxy’s casino yesterday afternoon. Take your time, and don’t leave anything out.”
“It all started on Wednesday night,” Billy said. “That’s when I got the phone call.”
“You got a phone call on Wednesday night.”
“A guy named Captain Crunch. His friends call him Crunchie. If it wasn’t for that phone call, I never would have ended up at the Galaxy.”
“All right. Start there, and don’t leave anything out.”