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5

Sam Reese slumped down into the vinyl-covered swivel chair and cocked his feet up on a corner of the cluttered desk. His narrowed eyes were focused on the door, but he was seeing Frank LaMancha, hearing him as if the Fed was still in the office.

"You've got a gang war on your hands." There had been something out of place about LaMancha, something cold and almost deadly in his eyes, his voice.

As if he knew exactly how it felt to drop the hammer, and did not mind the feeling one damned bit.

Sam Reese had pulled the trigger twice in his career with metro, and he knew it took a special kind of man to pop those caps dispassionately. A killer, for sure.

That was the reading that he got from Frank LaMancha. The guy was a killer.

The federal agents Reese was used to dealing with were usually clinical, detached, like CPA's examining a ledger full of dry dead figures. They knew their jobs all right, but they were used to working at a distance from the crimes they were investigating, and they generally lacked the took, the feel, of troopers long accustomed to the trenches. But that LaMancha had the bearing of a man who did his fighting one on one. A soldier's bearing. There was a trace of military ramrod in his stance, the posture that a CPA could never emulate regardless of the guns and badges handed to him back in Washington.

Sam Reese had little love for Feds. Very few had come to be his friends across the years. They were useful in their place — for running operations interstate and such — but they were chiefly skilled at getting underfoot and making simple cases complicated. They assumed an elitist attitude that made them stand aloof from other law-enforcement personnel — and many working cops suspected them of undermining local efforts in pursuit of broader, secret goals.

Sam Reese had put in more than twenty years with metro, rising through the ranks to reach command grade long before its merger with the Clark County Sheriff's Department. He remembered all the federal sound and fury under Kennedy — the wiretaps and surveillance, bugs in offices and counting rooms — all of it leading to a handful of indictments that were bargained down to nothing when they came to trial. When push came to shove the boys from Justice seemed to make their best moves in the headlines, leaking "confidential" information, making allegations, spreading notso-subtle innuendos.

They must have spent a century of high-priced man-hours chasing leads and fattening their files without approaching a solution to the problem. And Reese admitted that there was a problem. No frigging doubt about it. The syndicate was nothing new in Vegas.

Hell, the Siegel-Lansky mob had started everything in '46, and even after Benny bit the big one, there were others standing by to cut themselves a piece of pie. You did not need a microscope to find the Mob in Vegas — but finding them was one thing; getting rid of them was something else again.

Ironically, the greatest blow against the Vegas Mob had been delivered not by any law enforcement agency, but by a single dedicated man.

Sam Reese was a lieutenant with Intelligence when it came down and nothing that had happened since had dimmed the graphic memories. The soldier's name was Mack Bolan, the guy they called the Executioner, and he was famous nationwide for taking on the Mob before he ever came to Vegas. Reese had read about his exploits in the papers, but nothing on paper had prepared him for the grim reality of Bolan's desert blitz. The captain frowned, remembering the hellfire hours of the soldier's lightning visit, feeling something down inside himself turn over slowly at the memories.

Joe Stanno ran his body shop out of the old Gold Duster in those days. They called him Joe the Monster, and with reason. But he could not measure up to Bolan when the bad shit hit the fan. He called for reinforcements and the Mob sent in the meanest bastards they could muster — no less than the bloody Talifero brothers, with a private army at their backs.

Reese closed his eyes as he recalled the hot reception Bolan gave the brothers at McCarran International. The nervy bastard shot the tires right off their charter jet, leaving twenty guys laid out like slabs of beef along the runway.

Joe the Monster lost it all in Bolan's final hours on the Strip, along with half the Talifero team — the other twin got smoked somewhere back East, and the Executioner had left Las Vegas cleaner than he found it.

For a while.

It was not a solution, no. But Reese suspected it was never meant to be. Acting on his own initiative against the odds, the man they called the Executioner had made a difference in Las Vegas, and that was all that counted.

Part of Reese admired the gutsy bastard, though it would not do to say so in mixed company. A part of him was almost sorry when the guy flamed out in Central Park.

No, scratch the "almost." Reese was sorry when the soldier bought it.

Goddamned sorry.

Now the telex out of Justice had arrived, on top of all the other problems he was looking at. It said the Executioner was still alive and kicking ass. No word on where the hell he had been hiding for so long, just a curt advisory to keep the eyes peeled. Bolan might resurface anywhere, at any time, and bagging him was suddenly the number-one priority again.

The Feds thought he was heading west, but then again.

Reese did not want to think about the consequences of a second Bolan visitation. Not with all the crap he was facing on the job. He had a psycho killer on the loose who liked to butcher joggers and another with a taste for little girls. He had a rising murder rate among the Cubans, with a drug war in the offing. Kuwahara's Japanese were squaring off against the Brotherhood and now he had LaMancha and his goddamned strike force horning in. They would be breathing down his neck at every turn and muddying the waters in their efforts to be "helpful" — if he let them. "Your town is set to blow wide open." Great.

He was not losing any sleep about Minotte or his soldiers at the stud farm. Vegas was a better place without them, and the means of their abrupt departure did not faze him in the least. Old Benny Siegel used to say, "We only kill each other," and for Reese's money, none of last night's crop were likely to be missed.

Minotte's "family" would lay him out in style down south, and Kuwahara might be burning incense for his hitters. But to Captain Reese the lot of them were so much garbage, ready to be carted off for landfill somewhere.

He was troubled, though, by what had gone down after Bob Minotte and his men were wasted at the hacienda.

There was solid evidence of someone crashing through Minotte's gate, but they were outbound, and the chase crews all had come to heavy grief a few miles down the highway from the stud farm. No sign there of Kuwahara's samurai, and Reese was wondering if Seiji's action was the only violent game in town. If not.

There's a wild card in the game. The rules are changing. Shit.

The homicide detective shrugged. No matter, if he had a single mob war brewing, or a double cross — whatever. Reese had no intention of permitting mayhem in the streets of Vegas. It was his damned town, and he would hold the line no matter what.

If they could find a quiet way of killing one another off, the captain would not bust his chops to interfere with family business. Laissez faire was SOP in Vegas, even if the vast majority of locals could not quite pronounce it.

Live and let live, even if it came down to dying. But if the war slopped over from the gutters to endanger innocent civilians, Captain Reese was ready to engage in some constructive carnage of his own. He had a list of names and he was not above some hard harassment, bringing in a few of them across his fender if he had to. Anything to make his point.

It might not come to that, of course. He might get lucky. But experience had taught him that the odds were always with the house, against the bettor in Las Vegas.

Captain Reese knew that there was only one sure thing about the present death game. He had not yet seen the last of brutal jungle warfare in the desert.


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