The Solitaire Series Reminder: Each week, a story will appear on my blog, 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.
Fredrick, ex-football star turned bouncer, didn’t like how things were going. He didn’t like it at all.
Ace sat behind the desk. Another man, a smaller man, sat across from him. Fredrick had met him before, and he knew his boss didn’t like the man any more than he did. But it didn’t matter. He held a role of some importance in their organization, known as Blackjack.
“Get to the point!” Ace said. The man across from him tried to make light conversation, but Ace was having none of it. It was fake anyway.
“The point is that I have something for you.”
“What is it?”
“Before I share it with you, what would it be worth for you to find Jack Bardlow?”
Ace sat up straighter. Fredrick knew the name, had heard it whispered. The legendary former Solitaire member had pissed someone off in a big way, survived several attempts on his life, and seemed to have gone underground.
Some guy from Solitaire, Nakamura, he remembered, had put a bounty on the man’s head, but offered a bonus if he were brought in alive. Apparently Jack had something they wanted pretty badly.
“More than just the bounty offered,” Ace told the man. “But that, I would happily split with you.”
“Sixty-forty,” the small man offered.
“How generous of you to offer me sixty.” Ace sat back and smiled. Fredrick took the hint and stepped forward.
“Don’t threaten me with your goon,” the man said. “Do you know who I am?”
“I’m just reaching for something in my pocket to show you,” he said, staring at Fredrick. “Is that okay with you?”
Fredrick nodded, but watched carefully anyway.
The man pulled a playing card into view and flipped it face-up on the desk. It was a King of Clubs.
“I thought you were dead.”
“A simple misunderstanding. I’m happy to be here and clear it up for you.”
“Call me Uncle Bob. Please.”
The little man stood, and Fredrick moved to stop him, but before he could move, a small blade was at Ace’s throat.
“I’m only going to say this once. You took something from me. Something I highly valued. I can’t ever get it back, but I can get something. I want Jack as bad as you do, but we have to be careful. There are—issues that I could use your help with.”
“We aren’t the only ones with an interest in him. And he’s gone into hiding with some help.”
“How do you know?”
“Because of this.” The man sat back. The blade disappeared. Fredrick moved forward, but Ace put a hand on his arm and stopped him.
Uncle Bob reached in his pocket again and pulled out a phone. He tapped the screen and turned it around. There was what appeared to be a screenshot of several letters:
QQSKQ GAWG KSSKU SWSKA
“What does that mean?” Ace asked, looking closer. “Were you able to decode it?”
“Of course.” His finger swiped the screen and revealed more letters:
QDEAD LVTLA ERASE TRIAL
“Jack sent this?”
“Joseph.” Ace sat back. “Damn. Damn. Damn.”
Fredrick wondered what it meant. Who Joseph was. It wasn’t his job to know, but it was his job to protect. The more he knew, the easier that job became.
“Any idea where they’re headed?”
“This is the part where you pay me,” Uncle Bob said. He pulled both the card and the phone off the table and put them back in his pocket.
“How much, what?” the man put his hand to his ear.
“How much money?”
“Jesus Christ. What did I ask you to call me?”
“How much money, Uncle Bob?”
“Half a million. Half the bounty.”
“Out of the question.”
“That’s too bad.” The phone appeared in Uncle Bob’s hand. “Perhaps I should give Dahlia a call. Let her know I am back in town.”
Fredrick stiffened. Dahlia was Ace’s wife, but he would never mention her name aloud. Not without Ace doing so first.
He waited. He saw Ace’s face redden, but his boss didn’t move, nor did he order Fredrick to do anything at all.
Instead, he just sat there and stared. The redness faded.
Uncle Bob just sat still, clearly waiting, too.
“Well?” he asked after a few moments had passed.
“You leave her out of this.”
Fredrick saw Ace’s fist clench and unclench rapidly. “Deal.”
“Good. What does Jack want more than anything?”
Ace sat back; arms crossed. “Revenge?”
“Not likely. He already has more than enough.”
“Well, what then?”
“What if someone could fix him?”
“Fix him? His injuries, you mean?”
Fredrick had also heard enough of Jack to understand this: burned over the right side of his body, scarring, muscle atrophy.
Uncle Bob nodded. “Have you heard of Dr. Larry?”
“The doctor Larry?”
“If there is only one, I suppose so. He’s agreed to help.”
“How can—I’m not sure I want to know.”
“That’s where Joseph is taking him.”
“What’s Joseph’s motive?” Ace asked.
“Good question. Even though he was friends with Jack’s father, he rarely if ever works for free.”
“Do you think Jack has something he’s interested in?”
“There’s a rumor. A rumor of a key map, one that holds the location of all of Solitaire’s treasures.”
“Jack has it?”
“That’s what Nakamura thinks. Probably Joseph, too.”
“It would be worth millions.”
“Hundreds of millions. In the right hands.”
“Where’s Dr. Larry operating out of now?”
“That’s where you come in. I need your help to find him.”
“How would I find him?”
“How about your man there?” Uncle Bob indicated Fredrick. “Can I borrow him?”
Ace glanced up at him, and Fredrick just nodded. He would do what he had to do, as long as he still worked for Ace. He was loyal, even when it came to money.
“I don’t know what good it will do you,” Ace said. “I doubt Fredrick knows any better than we do where to find Dr. Larry.”
“I just might,” Fredrick said. “Or at least, where to find him in his off time.”
Both men looked at him. He stared back. He knew of Dr. Larry, but particularly, he knew about his odd fetishes and sexual tastes.
Finding Larry might be easier than they thought. From there, finding Jack was only a matter of persuasion. Fredrick was good at that.
* * *
Jack Bardlow Jr. felt the car sway as it went around corners. He tried to keep track of where they were going and how far, but it didn’t work. The hood over his head made it hard to breathe, hard to concentrate, and impossible to see. But it also had another effect.
The nylon was rough and rubbed the scar tissue on his face. It’s didn’t hurt, exactly, but it—tingled. Irritating more than anything else, he tolerated it, but the distraction made keeping a focus on their route even more challenging.
His heart pounded in his chest and he could hear his pulse in his ears. He had hope: hope of being fixed, emerging as someone new.
He was terrified of the cost. He knew he had something of immense value. Joseph was a man he trusted, but if he was right about the ring and the card—well, anyone could be bought. It was just a matter of price.
He felt the vehicle stop and start again. He heard music, from a club maybe, and the noise of a crowd. Maybe they were somewhere on the strip, or maybe—
The sound faded, and they rode in relative silence. There was no conversation in the car. He couldn’t smell much but rough nylon and his own sweat. The taste of iron in his mouth alerted Jack to the fact that he was gritting his teeth.
He tried to relax. He felt Boris next to him, reached out and ran his fingers through the dog’s short hair. That always relaxed him. This time not enough.
He felt a right turn, a sharp one from the effort it took for him not to fall onto his left side. He heard what he thought to be gravel or rock of some sort under the tires. The sound of a motor raising a door came to his ears, and he felt more than saw his surroundings brighten as they thumped over a lip of a driveway and entered a building of some sort.
The motor sound came again, telling him the door had closed behind them.
“Bring him,” he heard Joseph say.
A hand gripped his right arm and he winced as it tightened. Boris growled as air hissed out from between Jack’s teeth.
“Other side, goddamnit,” Joseph said, and Jack felt a body move around him. He heard a mumbled, “Sorry.”
He felt himself led across the floor and sensed that Boris was right beside him. Electricity danced in the air, touching his body from time to time, setting his nerves on fire.
Whatever was happening was happening now. The temperature of the air changed, from Vegas warm, even inside, to cool air conditioning. He was led around a corner, and into what felt like a large room.
“Can you kennel Boris, and tell him to listen to me?” Joseph asked.
“Sure,” Jack heard himself say. Their voices echoed off far away walls and a high ceiling he could only surmise, but not see.
He said a few commands in German, and felt the dog go away from him.
Jack hadn’t felt so alone in a long time.
“It won’t be far now,” Joseph said, and Jack felt himself directed again. He heard voices, but they got farther away and finally faded altogether.
He heard doors whoosh open this time, like those in a hospital, and he felt air rush over him before another set of doors whooshed open, and he was led through. He could smell anti-septic, cleaning products, and now his footfalls and those of his companions clacked on hard tile and bounced off the walls back to them.
No matter what happened now, Jack would never be the same. He knew it.
“It will be okay,” Joseph said. “You can take the hood off of him now.”
The nylon slipped over his head, and Jack felt instant relief and new pain. The relief was from his own breath and the constant rubbing. He sucked in a deep breath. The bright light hurt his eyes, and he swayed on his feet.
“Steady,” the man next to him said. Jack could see him for the first time and discovered that he could not have been more ordinary. The man wore a blue polo and khakis, not even a suit, and his shoes looked comfortable and casual.
“Mr. Bardlow?” a woman said. He turned to find himself face to face with who he assumed was a nurse. She wore scrubs, was thin but not too thin, but wore a mask, the surgical kind, and a cap that hid most of her hair.
“That’s me,” he said.
“Come with me. I’ll get your vitals and then we will get you comfortable before I have the doctor come explain what happens next.”
“Is everything ready?” Joseph asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I haven’t seen Dr. Larry this excited since you brought that boy from Mexico.”
“Good. I imagine he’ll be glad to see Jack.”
The nurse looked at him. “A challenge for sure.”
Jack looked for a name tag, but she didn’t wear one. The hall itself was as anonymous as you could make it. The walls were sandy brown and lacked the typical cheap art many hospitals decorated with.
“Right this way,” she said, and Jack felt himself guided by Mr. Polo Shirt, who still held his arm lightly.
They passed two doors and entered a third. Inside there was a blood pressure station, heart monitor, and a clean, stainless steel table with some kind of packet in the center. He could see metal instruments in the bag but couldn’t tell what they were.
“Have a seat,” she said. “Let me get a little information from you.”
Blue Polo left. Joseph stayed. Jack answered questions, the nurse took his vitals.
“You’ll be here for a while,” Joseph said when she was gone. “I’ll watch Boris and care for your stuff in the meantime.”
“Sounds good,” Jack said. The plastic of the chair, the dim lights, it all made him sleepy.
The door opened, and the nurse walked back in with a man Jack kind of recognized. He looked oddly familiar.
“Hey, Jack!” the doctor said with huge grin. “Great to see you again. Let’s talk about what I can do for you.”
“I’ll see you soon, Jack,” Joseph said, and left.
If it was possible, Jack felt even lonelier.
I hope you are enjoying reading this series as much as I am. You can the rest of this series on Amazon here! Stay tuned for another FREE story right here next week. I hope to see you then!