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11

Frank Spinoza finished loading the clip for his Browning Hi-Power automatic pistol and snapped it into the pistol grip, working the weapon's slide to chamber up a live one. He eased down the hammer and set the safety, enjoying the weight of the loaded gun in his hand. Reluctantly he reached out to stow it in the top desk drawer, then reconsidered, slipping it inside the waistband of his slacks, on the left, where it was hidden underneath his jacket. The solid weight of it felt good there against his ribs.

For the first time since that afternoon Spinoza felt secure, sitting there behind his massive desk inside the private office. The gun was part of it, he knew. And the layout of the office helped. No windows.

He had been expecting Paulie Vaccarelli's knock, and even so, it made him jump involuntarily. Spinoza gripped the padded arms of his swivel chair, willing himself to relax with an effort.

"Come ahead," he ordered.

The houseman stepped inside, the door ajar behind him and his body sealing off the opening. His rugged face seemed out of balance now with a bulky bandage on his cheek across the wound he received from flying window glass.

Spinoza wondered if he would ever stand before another open window totally at ease, without feeling fear in the pit of his stomach.

Paulie's voice cut through his private thoughts, a welcome interruption at the moment.

"Abe's here."

Spinoza cleared his throat to rout the squeak.

"Okay. Thanks, Paulie."

The houseman backed out and a moment later Abe Bernstein entered. To Spinoza he was moving like a little boy expecting trouble from his grade-school principal. Hell, everyone knew it must have been a hundred frigging years since Bernstein was in school. He looked like some cartoonist's notion of Methuselah, standing there impassively watching Frank through his wire-rimmed spectacles.

Spinoza did not know exactly how old Bernstein was — a very cautious estimate would place him somewhere in his early eighties — but whatever it was, he looked his age. The thinning hair was frosty white and Bernstein's tailored suit could not disguise the thickening around his waist, the slight droop to his shoulders. He still carried himself pretty well for his age, but the years had carved deep furrows in his face beneath the sunlamp tan and added on some surplus chins. The old man used to be some kind of hot shit in his day, when it was booze from Canada that brought the bucks instead of grass from Mexico and coke from South America. The frigging Purple Gang, for crying out loud. What was that, some kind of Jewish ethnic humor? Spinoza felt like laughing to himself. Those bad-assed Jews had ruled the roost around Detroit — until they ran into the Brotherhood. It did not take them long to cut and run when they came face-to-face with bold and bad Sicilians.

Purple Gang, my ass, Spinoza thought. More like the Yellow Gang. And where were they now? Filling bone orchards back east, most of them. A few survivors had retired into obscurity or lived, like Bernstein, on the sufferance of the Brotherhood.

Manhattan owned Abe Bernstein body, soul, and diamond pinky ring — the whole nine yards. Spinoza broke the silence, speaking as he would to a subordinate, his voice and manner vaguely condescending.

"Abe, I need your help."

"Whatever I can do," the old man answered.

"We've got some company coming in. A lot of company. They're landing at McCarran in."

"Oh..." he made a show of consulting his Rolex, "let's call it ninety minutes."

Spinoza met the old man's eyes and dropped his bomb.

"They're going to need some rooms."

"How many?" Bernstein asked.

"All of 'em."

Abe's smile faltered, freezing at half-mast.

"You're joking, right?"

Spinoza shook his head, eyes never leaving Bernstein's face.

"I've never been more serious."

That did it for the smile. Old Abe was glowering at him now across the desk.

"It's Friday night. We're almost full, Frank."

"So?"

"So, that's three hundred fifty rooms with paying guests. We can't put all those people on the street. You can't need all those rooms."

Spinoza shrugged, enjoying the game now.

"You're right. They'll only need a third of that. Fact is, I want an empty house."

A hesitation, Bernstein judging just how far he dared go.

"Why's that, Frank?"

Spinoza allowed himself a frown although he felt like laughing in the old man's face.

"I don't owe you any explanations, Abe. But since you ask, our visitors are going to need their privacy." He paused, dragging it out to get the maximum effect from his pronouncement. "It's a head party, Abe. We're going hard."

"I see."

His tone informed Spinoza very clearly that he did not like it. Which was fine. The old man did not have a vote in the proceedings.

"That make you nervous, Abe?" Spinoza asked, toying with him now.

Bernstein shook his snowy head.

"I'm old," he said. "I don't get nervous, Frank. I just get tired."

"Well, save your strength, old man. I'm gonna need you here to man the fort until this thing blows over."

There was weary resignation in his voice as Bernstein answered.

"Anything you say, Frank."

"Good."

"What should I tell our guests? Where are they going to go?"

"I don't care what you tell them. Use your own imagination — union problems, broken plumbing... anything. Just get them out. I'm calling in some markers on the Strip to get the rooms we need. We'll have it covered by the time you get them packed."

"The transportation..."

"Is no problem, Abe," Spinoza interrupted him, and he was getting irritated now. The game was over. "They don't have wheels, we'll run the limos, stick 'em on the damn bus — who cares? Don't make a problem out of nothing."

"Right."

"We're set, then?"

"Set." The old man nodded confirmation.

"Okay, get on it."

Abe Bernstein let himself out of the private office, and Spinoza was left alone. At once the mafioso put him out of mind, already moving on to other more important things. The old man would do what he was told — or he would rue the consequences of his failure.

In the coming hours Frank Spinoza would command an army, finally get his chance to move against the common enemy. A tardy move, no question there, but not too late.

Not yet.

The troops had been reluctantly provided subsequent to his last conversation with The Man.

New York was still opposed to open warfare in the city, but as long as it was unavoidable, as long as someone else had started it, at least they meant to win.

His own accounting of the sniper raid and Julio DePalma's grisly end had turned the trick.

Spinoza was convinced of it. The old oratorical gift coming through for him again as it always had in the past.

He had sensed that many different ears were listening to him as he laid it out — the whole Five Families — and he had spared them nothing on the scrambled line. He let them see poor Julio — the bastard, coming at Spinoza that way — splattered on the walls and leaking out his life into the deep-shag carpet. And the others, flopping, dying.... When he had finished, New York asked him what he needed. No more waiting, no more arguments, no stalling. Just a blank check with a single string attached.

He had to make it good and make it fast.

If he should fumble somehow No.

Spinoza put the thought out of his mind. Defeat was out of the question. He had a chance to show the powers that be another side of Frank Spinoza here tonight. And let them see that he could hold his own in battle, not just in the peace negotiations afterward.

If — no — when he pulled it off, he would be in a position to dictate some rather different terms. Perhaps to cut himself a hefty slice of the pie. Spinoza eased the Browning from his belt and set it on the desk in front of him, its muzzle pointed at the office door. He was looking forward to the opportunity of using it. Tonight, perhaps. Tomorrow for certain. If the campaign lasted any longer.

Spinoza smiled to himself, his mind at ease now.

Seiji Kuwahara had already missed his chance.

Pearl Harbor, hell. It would be frigging Hiroshima and Nagasaki all rolled into one before he finished with the little yellow bastard.

And he meant to plant him personally.

The future capo of Las Vegas owed it to himself.


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