The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear here, and be free to read for one week only. The next story will take its place, and the first story will be available on Amazon and other e-retailers. But if you follow this blog, you can read the stories for free every single week! Read more about the Short Story Deal here.
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Queen of Diamonds
“So King is dead?” her high heels clicked on the hardwood floor as she paced in front of her desk. The tall blonde wore a short black dress that showed off her legs. Her hair was tied up in what had once been a tight bun, clearly unraveling, little strands of hair fleeing their captivity. Large diamond earrings dangled from her ears, at least a carat each.
The desk was a Wellston Executive, one of their new line of sit or stand models. At the moment, it was raised to the standing position, and a piece of large anti-fatigue foam sat on top of a bamboo chair mat. A leather executive chair was pushed back from the desk on the back wall, a set of shelves that contained what looked like a mix of classic literature, law textbooks, and rare collectible editions.
“What pieces of him we could find indicate yes.” A man of slight build and Asian descent stood still in front of her, keeping his distance. He was new to Vegas but brought a great reputation from Hong Kong.
“That’s four. Fucking Jack.”
“It seems his injury has actually given him an advantage.”
“That injury should’ve killed him. Are you a man of mercy, Mr. Nakamura?”
“No, ma’am. Only a man of honor.”
She scoffed. “Same thing. This business has no place for either.”
Nakamura said nothing.
“I think we need someone more ruthless,” she said, pacing. “Someone who won’t respond to his appearance, but someone crafty too. I thought surely King would see through him.”
“Ma’am, if I may?” the small man bowed slightly.
“It may be that Jack is no longer on the defensive. He’s disappeared, but he has ties to L.A. The house, the beach, the dogs, and it’s a great travel hub for him to—” he hesitated. “—conduct business.”
“If he disappeared, and isn’t on the defensive, then where is he?”
“Maybe he knows who sent King. That man talks, or rather talked a lot.”
“That he did.”
“Assuming Jack knows who sent him, or has even guessed, he could be coming to find you. Maybe to talk, but—”
“Right. Jack is a smooth talker. But he always ends up killing the conversation. What do you propose?”
“A trap, ma’am. With you as the bait.”
“You’re a brilliant man, Nakamura. You may be one of us yet.”
* * *
The Ford Thunderbird was aging, but aging well, largely due to the care offered by her owner. Her paint job, refreshed only once since the original, was dark blue, this time with metal flakes throughout that shimmered in the sun. Her vinyl top, a dark tan, was soft, supple, and free of cracks despite her dry California home. The interior of the car was perfect, original to her 1976 origins. Even though the stereo had been upgraded, the face still looked like the stock Ford model. She was beautiful.
Classic car aficionados adored her. When he drove her to car shows, Jack was always encouraged to enter, but he never did. This car was his baby.
Boris sat in the back seat. He loved both Dobermans and German Shepherds, but he liked the short-haired breed better. They were better suited for desert climates.
And then his gorgeous car wasn’t full of dog hair.
At the moment, Boris wore his support animal vest, the one that would get him in places where dogs were not normally allowed. Unlike dogs who were a part of the new trend where everyone declared their pet an emotional support animal and certified them through some online service, Boris had real training.
But Boris served two roles. Emotional support, yes. Jack’s entire right side was covered in scars from what many called a horrible accident. He knew it for what it had been: an assassination attempt.
His right eye was gone, his face on that side a drooping mess. His right arm was scarred and while not entirely useless, was a true handicap. Add to that his right leg and foot, nearly unrecognizable as human. That made things like standing and walking extremely painful.
His high tolerance for opioids and his desire to never be a slave to any one thing, let alone a chemical substance, meant Jack was in pain much of the time.
The Thunderbird had one key modification. A gas pedal for his left foot made it possible for him to drive. Luckily he had enough vision in his left eye to not be declared legally blind, so he kept his license.
But he never drove at night and had horrid depth perception.
At the moment he wore dark sunglasses, ones with a strap that compensated for his damaged right ear. A hat covered his half-scarred and bald head and sat low over the sunglasses.
His suit was tailored as perfectly as it could be over his flawed body, and he wore a black driving glove over his mangled right hand.
Jack wondered if he was doing the right thing.
But there were only two ways to get out of a Solitaire contract. One was feet first. The other was to eliminate the originator of the contract.
In this case, the Queen of Diamonds.
Jack simply hoped she wasn’t expecting him. He’d disappeared after the last man they sent to kill him failed.
But only long enough to plan this trip and head straight to Vegas.
The Thunderbird rolled up to the front of the casino. Both valet attendants, clad in typical red uniforms, pointed. He witnessed a quick game of rock, paper, scissors, and the winner stepped forward.
Jack slid out and stood as quickly as his disability would allow, pulling his cane with him. He tipped the seat forward, and Boris jumped out and then sat by his side. Jack attached a leash to his harness, even though he never needed it.
“Careful,” he warned. “There’s an accelerator on the left. I can’t do much with my right foot.”
The valet leaned in for a closer look. “Cool, sir. I’ll be careful.”
“Thanks,” Jack said and held out a fifty. “Park it somewhere close. Watch for me. If you see me coming, go ahead and pull her right up front and leave her running.”
Jack turned and walked through the gold-framed glass front doors. As soon as he entered, the sound of slot machines and murmuring crowds washed over him. Lights flashed, buzzers buzzed, and shouts of victory made him smile. Straight ahead was a display with a shiny Harley Davidson sitting on a turnstile spinning seductively. “Win Me,” a large sign read.
“Not anymore,” Jack said. He’d thought of buying a trike in order to take up riding again, but just never got around to it. He wasn’t sure how Boris would react to the wind, and he rarely went anywhere without him.
The dog sat at his right side when he stopped, protecting him where he was weakest. Jack looked around.
Where would she be?
A set of stairs led to the second floor of the building, where there were conference rooms and offices. Guest rooms started on the third floor.