* * *
Abe Bernstein reached inside his jacket, pulling out the short slim automatic pistol from his waistband. He took a moment, checking out the action, waiting while old Harry Thorson slid a new clip into the receiver of his Army-model .45.
They had regrouped for the assault on Frank Spinoza's penthouse, Bernstein refusing to take any chances when they had come so far and dared so much to make it work. They would be done with it tonight or none of them could count on a tomorrow — in Las Vegas or anywhere. If Frank Spinoza or another of the capos in there managed to escape with news of what Abe Bernstein had accomplished at the Gold Rush, they could write it off as a total loss.
"All set?" He glanced around and noticed that Jack Goldblume held his pistol pointed to the floor as if he was afraid it might go off and hurt someone. Old Jack was looking green around the gills, as if the sights that he had witnessed there that evening had been almost more than he could stomach. Almost, but not entirely. He was with them still, and Bernstein meant to make sure that he stayed there — at least until they finished with Spinoza and the others. He still needed the Beacon, a sympathetic press, to help cover their tracks when they were finished. Later, when the smoke had cleared and the dust of battle settled... Well, Jack Goldblume was looking more expendable by the moment.
Abe's prey was in there, waiting for him now. Not taking any chances, he had risked a phone call from the last suite they had visited, putting on his best solicitous flunky's voice and asking Frank if there was anything that he could do for any of them.
Coffee? Liquor? Anything at all? Spinoza had cut him off, but not before Abe had heard the other voices in the background, jabbering excitedly together, arguing in angry tones. Liguori.
A clean sweep, bet your ass.
He nodded to the pair of mercenaries waiting by the doorway to the penthouse, and they stepped in front of it, their silenced Ingrams leveled from the waist. One of them hit the locking mechanism with a short precision burst and they followed through, the others crowding in behind them, Bernstein jockeying into a firing-line position, letting Thorson and Jack Goldblume ride his coattails.
And his men were under orders not to fire until he gave the order. One last precaution, time to let him verify the targets before the heads began to roll.
He stood there gaping in amazement and shock at the tableau laid out before his eyes. At first the visual impulse made no sense, and then he realized that it was no illusion.
Bernstein saw the woman seated in the chair with her hands bound behind her. He made the recognition through a veil of caking blood that ran down from her nose, her lips, a cut above one eye. Spinoza stood above her, one fist poised to strike again. Behind him the other capos ranged around the desk, their enjoyment of the sport interrupted by the intrusion.
Something cold and deadly rose in Bernstein's throat and he raised the pistol, aiming it at Frank Spinoza's chest before the thought could translate unconscious images.
"Wait a minute, Abe..." And there was something in Spinoza's hand, a pistol, Bernstein saw, but he ignored it. Squeezing off a round, he watched the slug drill through Spinoza's throat, releasing bloody plumes that splattered down his shirt front, soaking through.
Another round, and one of Frank Spinoza's eyes exploded from its socket, hurtling across the room. The man was dead now but he would not fall.
Bernstein kept on firing, emptying his magazine into the standing corpse, until the point-blank impact threw him backward, stretched him out across the cluttered desk.
The other capos were reacting, alternately diving for some cover they could never hope to reach, or grasping after weapons of their own. The mercenaries opened fire, and Abe could hear the roar of Harry Thorson's .45 as he joined in. But Abe was heedless of the cross fire now, already kneeling down at Lucy's side and slicing at her bonds with a penknife he carried.
Of the mafiosi, only Johnny Cats had time to reach his weapon and employ it, squeezing off three rounds before converging streams of fire crucified him to the wall. The others died in varied attitudes of flight, devoid of honor, courage — everything but fear.
Abe Bernstein felt the tears as he released his granddaughter from her confinement in the straight-backed chair. His taste of victory had turned to something sour in his throat, threatening to gag him as he knelt there looking at her swollen bloodied face.
He told her he was sorry, begged her to forgive him, but she did not seem to hear. At last he motioned for a couple of his soldiers to assist him, and he lifted her out of the chair, got her onto her feet and held her there until she found the strength to stand.
"Let's get you home," he said, as if a change of scene would make things right again, erase the sights and memories of what had happened here this night. "Let's get you home," he said again, and knew she was not hearing him.
Abe Bernstein turned back toward the door, one arm around his grandchild's shoulders. He saw Jack Goldblume stretched out on the carpet, Harry Thorson bending over him and feeling for a pulse against his throat. The newsman's jacket, shirt and all were soaking crimson where the rounds from Johnny Cats's last burst had caught him, and Abe knew that it was hopeless long before the cowboy straightened up and shook his head.
"No good, Abe."
"Okay, we'll take him with the others. Hurry."
And they were not finished yet, he knew. There were still stragglers to be dealt with in the Gold Rush, and disposal teams to organize. Transporting all the bodies would be no small undertaking in itself, and Bernstein wondered where he might locate a garbage truck at this hour of the night.
No matter. First, he had to care for Lucy, make her understand that what had happened was an accident, a side effect of what he had achieved for all of them this night.
For all of Vegas.
It would take time, he knew, but she would understand once he explained it to her from the start. If he could take her back to the beginning, when the town was young and so was he, before the leeches came to fasten on him, draining off his life's blood.
They reached the escalator and Abe Bernstein forced himself to concentrate on here and now. Before he could tell Lucy anything, they had to get out of the hotel in one piece. And from the sounds downstairs, that might be difficult.
The old catch phrase came back to him — something they used to say all the time during the war. What was it, now?
"The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer."
Well, he had accomplished the impossible already here tonight. The difficult would prove no match for him, with victory already within his grasp.
Abe Bernstein checked the little automatic's load and slipped it back inside the waistband of his slacks as he followed his mercenaries onto the moving staircase. He could smell the battle now below them, as well as hear it echoing around the vast casino. Lucy vanished from his thoughts immediately, and the hunter reemerged, triumphant.