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Jack followed Yuko into her hotel room, suddenly very tired. His right shoulder ached, and even his face hurt. He’d been awake for a long time, and the ruined right side of his body meant he needed more rest than the average person.

It was like his mind kept trying to restore the destroyed part of him, but it failed over and over again, night after night.

Boris followed, reassuring him with his low growling. Whatever lay ahead in this hotel room, he was as ready as he could be.

As he entered the narrow entrance, with the bathroom on the right and a doorless empty luggage area on the left, the hair stood up on his left arm, and his right rippled with gooseflesh between the scars.

This room wasn’t Yuko’s.

An older man, in his sixties at least, sat at the table near the back of the room. His shoulders were bent in a permanent slouch, and he had a full head of white hair. Hazel eyes sparkled under thick eyebrows.

A bottle of whiskey stood on the table in front of him, and two heavy glasses, ones Jack expected were crystal, shared the space. So, unless the whiskey was poisoned, the man was not here to kill him.

“Will that be all, Mr. Griffin?” Yuko asked.

“Yes. Thank you.” The man handed her a bundle of bills. “You never saw me. You showed Jack here to your room, and while you were in the bathroom, he slipped out. You have no idea where he went. Understood?”

“Yes, Mr. Griffin.” The bills disappeared somewhere into her dress and she left the room.

As soon as the door clicked shut, the man gestured at the chair across from him.

“Have a seat, Jack.”

With some difficulty, Jack sat. “What about the cameras in the hallway?”

“Taken care of.” Then man poured whiskey into the glasses. He popped a straw into one of them. Boris walked over, his stub of a tail wagging, and sat down, too.

“Thank you, Joseph.” So my message is being answered after all, Jack thought. “So, you used Yuko to lure me here with the promise I could avoid notice.”

“She’s good, isn’t she.”

Jack suspected Yuko’s success was more Joseph’s knowing what angles would work with him. “Yeah.”

“I’ll never get used to you using straws you know.” Joseph scratched the dog’s ears, and Boris arched his neck for more.

“I know,” Jack said. “I would love it if things were different.”

“What if they were?”


“What if I knew a way to fix your scars permanently? Put you back to normal, at least, mostly?”

“I would wonder what it cost, what I would owe you, and I’d probably come up with other questions. You’re a powerful man, Joseph. But you know the difference between you and God, right?”

“God doesn’t think he’s me? Heard it.”

“Right. First things first. How do I get out of here and back to L.A.?”

“Let’s look at the situation for a moment. Solitaire came for you. You went after the Queen to solve the problem at the source. In the meantime, you pissed off someone in the organization, someone who probably doesn’t know why the Queen had such a hard-on for you, and now that person is after you, but so are some others you haven’t identified?”

“That about covers it.”

“That’s why you are headed to L.A. You think you’ll be safer there.”

“Won’t I?” Jack wondered what this angle was. Who was this surgeon Joseph told him about all of a sudden. Why hadn’t he offered this service sooner?

“You called on me for an out due to the “independent nature” of my business?”

“Joseph, you know that. Besides, I trust you. You’re a friend. The rest of these people—they’re all business, and everyone can be bought, except for you.”

“Who from Solitaire is after you?” Jack was surprised, with all the other things Joseph already knew, that he didn’t know the answer already.

“Some guy named Nakamura,” he answered.

“Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Joseph excused himself, and Jack heard him leave the room. He sighed and took another sip of whiskey. Joseph was a friend from way back, sure, but this “rescue” was going to cost him, whatever that looked like. The idea of actually fixing his body did appeal to him, but he had no idea how that would work. He’d talked to the best doctors he knew, and all of them, after a brief exam, had given him the exact same answer: “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

No offers of money or any favors swayed them at all. What he wanted just wasn’t possible.

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