* * *
The main casino floor was in a bloody shambles, and Abe Bernstein shook his head, unable to believe his eyes. A simple mopping-up had rapidly degenerated into chaos, and he sensed that they could lose it unless they moved decisively to stem the running tide.
The Mafia troops were up against the southern bank of slots, pinned and fighting tenaciously for their lives. They might break out of their position, rush the exits, make it to the street outside, and... No! It was imperative that all of them be killed. Bernstein barked an order to the mercenaries who surrounded him. At once they formed a spearhead, opened fire upon the Mafia entrenchments, scoring hits immediately with their cold precision fire.
They could still save it, with swift, audacious action, and Abe Bernstein felt another rush, the hot adrenaline now pumping through his ancient veins and giving him his second wind. He brushed past Lucy, plucking at the pistol in his waistband, anxious to be in the finish line, the climax of his dreams.
He saw the man in black peripherally, a rising shadow with a massive silver cannon in his fist. Bernstein flinched away from that impending danger, survivor's instinct taking over like the old days, conscious thought replaced by reflex action.
Bernstein heard the shot — that's good; you never hear the one that kills you — and he felt the hot wind as the Magnum round passed by him, missing by a hair's breadth, ripping into Harry Thorson's ample belly. Harry toppled forward, gasping, clutching both hands to his wounded abdomen and making no attempt to catch himself before he fell. He hit the mercenaries down in front of him, a massive flying tackle from behind, and then all four of them were rolling in a human knot of tangled arms and legs along the humming risers of the escalator, tumbling down twenty feet toward the landing. Below him, Bernstein heard the cannon roar again, and he was moving, but too slowly this time. Something struck his shoulder with sledgehammer force, knocking him completely off his feet. He was conscious of the stairsteps rushing up to meet him, metal slicing deep into his cheek. Then his face collided with the heel of Harry's boot at the bottom of the moving staircase, grounded, with the others coming down on top of him.
He searched about him for the pistol, knew that it was gone, and settled for the Army .45 that Harry had somehow kept hold of when he died. For a fleeting instant Lucy crossed his mind, but now survival was the only thought as he gripped the captured pistol, struggling to his feet among the twisted, tangled bodies, fighting to maintain his balance. The small-arms fire had momentarily trailed away to nothing on his flanks, and he was conscious only of the big man crouching behind the cover of a blackjack table. This one, this meshugeneh commando, was all his. This one who dared to challenge Abe Bernstein when he was so close to living out his dream. The old man thumbed the safety off of Harry's .45 and staggered across the prostrate body of his friend, unconscious of the pounding in his chest, the throbbing of his own pulse in his ears. He had a job to finish and it lay ahead of him. He raised the pistol, sighted quickly down the barrel and squeezed the trigger.