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14

Frank Spinoza took his time about emerging from the elevator. He would be at a disadvantage if he seemed too eager, too uncertain of himself. He could not afford to let the new arrivals think that he was unable to hold down his end. He had to deal from strength or they might find a way to ease him out along with Kuwahara's kamikazes.

Spinoza watched as the first contingent of arrivals from the East grouped up around the entrance, waiting for the porters to unload their bags. Outside, the rest were quickly piling out of airport limos, unwilling to expose themselves on hostile soil until they knew the layout. Spinoza planned to let them get their fill of action as soon as possible, but first he had to play the role of host to the assembled hunters. The lobby was a wasteland now, devoid of paying guests, with only Bernstein's few employees and the new arrivals. The place was deathly quiet-calm before the storm-and Frank Spinoza realized how much he missed the jangle of casino action from the big adjacent room. Right now, without the players his casino was lifeless — like a tomb.

Spinoza pushed the morbid image out of mind and crossed the lobby, Paulie Vaccarelli trailing at his elbow. Time enough to get the players back when he had dealt with Kuwahara and the frigging Yakuza once and for all.

Spinoza was a dozen paces out when one of the Manhattan soldiers peeled away and moved to greet him, two more falling in behind but hanging back a yard or so, their attitude conveying mute respect. Spinoza took the offered hand and shook it, matching ounce for ounce the pressure in that grip. He kept his face impassive.

"I'm Frank Spinoza. Welcome to Las Vegas."

"Jake Pinelli. Glad that we could help you out. No problem with the rooms?"

"My house is yours."

"Okay. Just let us settle in, and we can all get down to business."

"Good."

A movement on his flank distracted him, and Spinoza saw a runner huddling with Paulie, speaking to him in a whisper. Paulie heard him out, dismissed him, and then, before Spinoza could direct the New York crew chief to his suite, the houseman cleared his throat, discreetly claiming Frank's attention.

"Say, Frank..."

"Hang on a minute, Paulie. Now..."

"You got a call, boss. On your private line. It sounds important."

"Dammit, Paulie..."

"Never mind," Pinelli interjected, frowning. "We'll find our way. Go take your call."

"I'll have some food sent up. You name it, Jake."

"We caught some dinner on the plane, but thanks. I'll just wait till you get your action squared away."

Spinoza, fuming, followed Paulie back in the direction of his private office. He would have to watch Pinelli closely, make damn sure the snotty bastard did not start to think he was in charge.

Too many chiefs were bad for business, and Spinoza meant to be the only honcho at the Gold Rush.

Hell, he meant to be the only honcho in Las Vegas. Alone inside his office he relaxed a fraction, slumping down into his high-backed chair and punching up the lighted button for his private number as he lifted the receiver to his ear.

"Yeah?"

Momentary silence on the other end, finally broken by a voice that was distinctly male, distinctly cautious.

"I needta speak to Mr. Frank Spinoza." There was a trace of Eastern Seaboard in the voice, which he could not identify with any more precision.

"You got him."

"Yeah? I mean, good evening, sir."

"Who am I talking to?"

"Just call me Joe from Jersey. I'm connected back there with the Drucci family."

Sure, it fit. The Jersey twang.

Spinoza was not taking any chances with the caller being who he claimed to be.

"I've got some friends in Jersey," he allowed. "How's old Vinnie Giacovelli doing these days?"

Hesitation, but the caller caught on fast.

"He died six months ago. You ought to know that, sir."

"Okay. So, Joe from Jersey, how'd you get this number?"

"I guess you'd say it was a backup, sir. A kinda last resort... just covering all the bases, like, you know?"

"Somebody said this was important."

"Well... yeah, it might be. Anyhow, I thought I'd better tip you when I heard about your troubles."

"Troubles?" Spinoza was hard pressed to hide his irritation.

"Uh, yeah. That's kinda why I called. I thought you oughta know... about what I heard."

Spinoza kept his tone civil now with an effort.

"I guess I don't follow you, Joe."

"Well, I picked up a broad downtown this evening what a looker, man, the jugs on this one — anyway, we stopped into this restaurant she likes. A Japanese place. Me, I don't care much for all that seafood shit, but hell, whatever turns 'em on, you know? I mean..."

Spinoza interrupted him.

"Where is this place?"

"On Paradise. It had some kinda flowers in the name."

"The Lotus Garden." It was not a question.

"Yeah, that's it. Well, anyhow — where was..."

"In the restaurant."

"Oh, yeah. So we're just sitting there and this babe's sucking up the fish, but me, I'm concentrating on dessert, when I make out these two Nips talking shop behind me in another booth."

"Go on."

"I wouldn'a paid attention in the first place, but I heard some names that rang a bell, you know. These gooks were naming you, Liguori, Johnny Cats — some others I don't know for sure."

"What did they say?"

"Well, that's just it, sir. They were switching in and out with Japanese and some damn kinda broken English, so I couldn't get too much, but..."

"Anything at all, Joe." Spinoza's voice was cold as ice now, almost brittle.

"Right, okay. One guy says something like, "The troops are in," and then they go back into Japanese a while. But I can still make out your name, the Gold Rush, this and that."

"Go on."

"Well, they go back and forth like that and most of it is all this gook palaver, but then one of them comes out and says, "Tonight. We go tonight," like that. I mean, it doesn't take no Einstein now to figure out they're running down a hit on your place for this evening."

"And that's all of it?"

"It's all that I could understand. They took off pretty quick, and I hauled ass myself. I figured you should hear about this right away."

"You did the right thing, Joe. I wanna thank you."

"Hey, we're all arnici, right? I could stop by... I mean, I've got a piece if you could use an extra hand."

"I think we've got it covered here, but thanks again. I'll thank your capo personally when I get the chance."

"Hell, that ain't necessary, sir.

"I think it is."

"Well... thank you."

"If you ever feel the urge to relocate out east — you know, to get some sun..."

"I might at that."

"Okay, Joe. Have a safe trip home."

"And you, sir. Don't take any shit offa those Nips."

"Good night, Joe." Frank Spinoza put the phone down gently.

His mind was racing in confrontation with the danger that awaited him outside in the darkness of the desert night.

Somehow Kuwahara had found out about his buildup at the Gold Rush, and he had been working on a countermove — his own preemptive strike. Well, two could play that little game. Spinoza had the troops on hand to end this thing in one decisive move.

It was time for Jake Pinelli and his guns to earn their money. He would send Paulie with them, just to be sure they did it right the first time and to see that all his interests were protected. When they finished mopping up the streets with Kuwahara's chopsticks... well, Spinoza meant to have a little send-off waiting for them at the Gold Rush. A going away that none of them would soon forget. For the survivors. As for the rest... there was a great big desert out there waiting to be filled with little graves, and Frank Spinoza had a corner on the shovel market. He was going to get a lot of digging done before the bloody sunrise came up over Vegas one more time.

And it would not be Kuwahara's rising run. No way. His sun was going down in flames, except the Jap was too damned dumb to know it yet. The sun was rising for Spinoza and his family. The Nevada family. And they were going to flourish in the light.


* * * | The Bone Yard | * * *



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