"Come on, we haven't got much time," Abe Bernstein said agitatedly. "Let's wrap it up."
The three of them were meeting in his office at the Gold Rush. It was risky, but his two companions were familiar faces in the hotel and casino. They could pass unnoticed in the mounting chaos going on outside his door, and it was safer now to have them visit him in person than to talk their business on the phones, which Frank Spinoza would no doubt be monitoring.
They were relatively safe for the moment, but Abe Bernstein still felt a sense of urgency. He had delegated much of his responsibility in clearing out the Gold Rush to his underlings, but he would have to let himself be seen around the premises or run the risk of bringing down suspicion on himself.
And that, at this precarious stage, could be disastrous.
Across the desk from Bernstein, his companions had the air of generals on the eve of an invasion — confident, but with a sort of tension, an expectancy about them that was thinly veiled. Jack Goldblume, patriarch of the Las Vegas Daily Beacon and a friend for over forty years, was slender, seventy, and looking fit from daily workouts in his private gym. And, Bernstein knew, from private workouts with a sleek succession of young would-be show girls in his bedroom. Decades after they were separated in a widely celebrated falling-out, old Jack was still his good right hand, still handling the press whenever Bernstein needed a kind word-or a gaff delivered to his enemies.
The media would play a crucial role across the next few hours and days as all the pieces fell into their designated slots. Abe Bernstein meant his version of the story to be first out on the wire; whatever followed would be running second best.
On Goldblume's right sat Harry Thorson, bearing strong resemblance to a troll decked out in Western gear, with patterned sequins on his jacket and a snakeskin band encircling his roll-brim Stetson. His face was deeply tanned, like ancient saddle leather, with a paler knife scar staggering from the corner of his right eye to the jowl, now flabby and gone soft with time.
A Texas native, Thorson came to Vegas close behind Abe Bernstein in the forties. Texan lawmen sought his extradition on a range of charges that included homicide, extortion and a host of others. But strategic contributions to the reelection efforts of an understanding governor had kept him safe and sound inside Nevada while the statutes ran and legal deadlines passed unnoticed. The Alamo Casino, down the gulch from Bernstein's Gold Rush, was a living monument to Thorson's gratitude; the understanding governor, retired now, and a host of relatives were permanently on the payroll.
The aging cowboy still had muscle in Las Vegas and up north, around the capital at Carson City.
They would have need of those political connections soon, before the battlesmoke had settled in Las Vegas.
"The PR'S covered, Abe," Jack Goldblume said. "Whichever way it goes..."
"It better only — go one way, Jack," Harry Thorson interjected.
"It'll go," Abe Bernstein told them both. "I've got our people on the job already. When New York checks in, we'll help them feel at home."
"That's some room service," Thorson chortled. "Tuck 'em in and put their ass to sleep. I love it."
Goldblume shifted uneasily in his chair.
"We have to be especially careful," he reminded no one in particular. "I can keep a lid on what goes down inside here — maybe I can keep the lid on — but if anything slops over to the streets..."
"Don't give yourself an ulcer, Jack. Let's take it as it comes." Bernstein turned to Harry Thorson. "What's the word from Carson City?"
"Whispers, rumbles — you know the route. No one's gonna miss Spinoza or the rest of them, but natcherly they can't come out and say so for the record. If Frankie and his crew should turn up missing — well, I get the feeling that there won't be any posses tearing up the countryside to find 'em."
Thorson's message was not lost on Bernstein.
The law could not assist them, but it would not interfere as long as it could look the other way discreetly.
And Abe Bernstein was the soul of discretion.
"Fair enough," he said. "We'll have to clean it up ourselves, and keep it clean."
"How many guns they bringing?" Harry asked.
Bernstein shrugged distractedly.
"I haven't got a head count yet. Let's figure somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty."
Goldblume whistled softly to himself.
"That's an army," he said.
Bernstein raised a curious eyebrow.
"Getting nervous, Jack?" he asked.
Goldblume turned indignant.
"Hell, no. I just hate to see it come so far and then run out of steam."
"We're ready, Jack. Believe it. You just mind the headlines and stand clear."
"Sure, Abe, I just thought..."
"Don't think, Jack. It'll get you into trouble."
Goldblume looked hurt and Bernstein quickly moved to salve his old friend's wounded feelings.
"Listen, I'll be counting on your series to provide the background for some sudden disappearances. You up for it?"
The newsman nodded, making a show of self-assurance.
"Another day or two, at most — the Sunday supplement, for sure. We'll have it on the stands before Spinoza and the others turn up missing."
"Fine. We'll let the locals give you credit for a cleaner Vegas."
"What about New York? Chicago?" Goldblume asked. "Those boys won't take it lying down."
Abe Bernstein's voice turned hard as tempered steel.
"Then let 'em take it bending over."
Harry Thorson chuckled appreciatively as Abe pushed ahead.
"Once we have the town sewed up, they'll all be on the outside, looking in. They don't have guts enough to kill the golden goose. We're sitting on the biggest gold mine in the country. If they want a little piece of what we've got, they'd better ask real nice."
"Forget the nice," Thorson interjected. "They better get down on their goddamn knees and beg."
Abe Bernstein smiled. They were together once again, the shadow — doubts defeated, driven back into a corner. He checked his watch.
"I've gotta shake a leg. You both know what to do?"
"No sweat," the cowboy answered. "It's in the bag, Abe."
Bernstein glanced at Goldblume, received a jerky nod of confirmation.
"Well, then, let's get on it. I've got a plane to meet. They all rose, and he shook the hand of each man in turn."
"I'll see you back here for the main event?"
"Damn right," Thorson beamed. "I wouldn't miss..."
"I'll be here," Goldblume promised, but he sounded considerably less enthused than Thorson by the prospect.
Bernstein saw them out and closed the office door behind them. He would give them time to clear the premises before he made another round to supervise the mass evacuation under way. No point in taking any chances, with victory so close now that he could taste it. He was concerned about Jack Goldblume.
All those years behind a desk had taken something out of him — the old vitality, the nerve. Perhaps when they were finished Jack would get it back. If not.
Well, newsmen were expendable.
And old friends?
Yes. Them, too.
Abe Bernstein was about to realize a dream he had been cherishing for thirty years and more. Revenge required precision planning and the father of Las Vegas had devoted three decades to winning back the empire that was rightly his. Spinoza and his kind had ruled the roost for too damn long already.
It was time for them to settle up their debts. In blood.
He was ready to unleash a crimson river on the streets — a desert flash flood that would sweep the city clean of that Italian scum. His city, sure — and never mind Jack Goldblume's seeming lack of nerve. If they were able to contain their action at the Gold Rush, fine. If not — no matter.
Bernstein did not seek publicity, by any means, but if it came... He was the father of Las Vegas, dammit, and he had the right — the bounden duty — to defend the city he had done so much to build. The people of Las Vegas — his people — would salute him if they knew what he was doing. He was cleaning up Las Vegas and if he should turn a profit in the process... well, so much the better. It was the American way, and who was more deserving than himself?
He was a goddamn civic hero. They owed him something, all of them, for what he had accomplished — and for what he was about to do. Especially that.
He was disposing of the Mafia, relieving Vegas of a plague. And later, when the dust had settled, he would deal with Seiji Kuwahara and his Eastern imports, too.
First the plague and then the yellow fever.
Bernstein chuckled to himself feeling better already, younger than he had in years. He had been working toward this moment all his life, and now that it was here the savior of Las Vegas knew that he was ready.
Abe Bernstein left his office, moving eagerly to meet the future that was waiting for him.