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Take Down

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Take Down


  Jack Carpenter Series:

  Midnight Rambler

  The Night Stalker

  The Night Monster

  The Program

  Tony Valentine Series:

  Grift Sense

  Funny Money

  Sucker Bet

  Loaded Dice

  Mr. Lucky

  Deadman’s Poker

  Deadman’s Bluff

  Wild Card


  Peter Warlock Series:

  Dark Magic

  Shadow People

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2015 James Swain

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781477822029

  ISBN-10: 147782202X

  Cover design by David Drummond, Salamander Hill Design

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2014950386

  For Stephen Roberts









































































  After his arrest at Galaxy’s casino, Billy was handcuffed and transported to the Clark County Detention Center, where he sat chained to a chair while a knuckle-dragging deputy two-finger-typed the charges against him into a desktop. He’d been busted before and managed to beat every single rap, but this bust was shaping up to be different. They’d caught him trying to escape, and that was never good. An extended stay at a gated community in the Nevada desert was his next stop if he didn’t do something fast.

  Saturday was old home day at the jail, and the holding cell was standing room only. He eventually got his one phone call, which he used to call his attorney’s answering service, onto which he left a short message explaining the jam he’d gotten himself into.

  He spent the night in thought. He and his crew had been made in the employee parking garage before the heist and had probably been photographed. He also had to assume that his crew had been filmed stealing the $8 million inside the casino. Witnesses would tie him to the fire alarm being pulled, and a video of him running away probably existed as well. With that much evidence, a reasonable jury would find him guilty, and his short, happy career as a cheat would come to an end.

  It wasn’t looking good for the kid, but he wasn’t about to call it quits. Like his old man was fond of saying, you can lose every round of a fight, just don’t lose the last one.

  Around midnight, a female voice called his name. At the cell door, he grabbed bars worn thin by inmates instinctively gripping them at chest height. Across the hall a vision named Maggie Flynn had materialized in the women’s holding cell. The orange jumpsuit actually looked good on her.

  “You okay?” he asked.

  “The gaming board worked me over pretty good. You’re next,” she said.

  “Right now?”

  “Tomorrow. They all went home to get their beauty rest.”

  “How much do they know?”

  “Too much. We’re going down, Billy.”

  She sounded defeated, as if the last chapter in the book had been written. He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and brought his face closer to the bars.

  “I need you to fill in some holes for me,” he said. “There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t know about your deal with them. I want the whole story.”

  “You think you can slip out of this one?” she asked.

  “Why not?”

  She shook her head as if to say, No way.

  “You betting against me?” he asked incredulously.

  “Some people got killed this afternoon at the casino, and the gaming board wants to pin it on us. We’re in their crosshairs.”

  “Screw them. Now tell me about your deal, and don’t leave anything out.”

  “You don’t quit, do you?”

  “Quitting is for losers. Come on, what else do you have to do?”

  She smiled tiredly, and then she started talking.

  The next morning, a pair of deputies removed Billy from the holding cell. Along with smelling pretty rank he had a headache from listening to his cell mates jabber during the night. As he passed the women’s holding cell, Mags pressed her face to the bars and mouthed the words good luck.

  Next stop was the sixth floor, where three grim-faced gaming agents and Billy’s lawyer were gathered in a windowless interrogation room. It was said that clothes made the man, and also gave him away. The gaming agents wore designer knockoffs from Jacobi’s Men’s Fashions, where you could buy three suits, three shirts, three neckties, and three pairs of socks for the ridiculously low price of $399. Many gaming agents shopped at Jacobi’s under the mistaken belief that the clothes made them look sharp. Compared to his lawyer’s five-thousand-dollar Brioni wool suit, the agents looked like circus clowns that had just piled out of a VW.

  Billy pumped his lawyer’s hand. Felix Underman was as old as the Rolling Stones and sported a neat part in his shock of silver hair. Back when the mob had run the casinos, Underman had defended every wise guy, hit man, and mobster, and had earned the reputation as the best criminal defense attorney around. That was good, because Billy needed all the help he could get.

  “Good morning, Billy. How are you doing?” his lawyer asked.

  “I’m doing great,” he said, putting on his best front.

  “These gentlemen from the gaming board want to talk to you. They think that y
ou had something to do with a heist that happened yesterday afternoon at the Galaxy.”

  “So that’s what this is about. Sure, I’ll talk with them.”

  Introductions were made. The gaming board often hired law enforcement officials from other agencies to fill their top jobs, and it was easy to tell where these jokers came from. John LaBadie, chief, investigations division, sported a flat buzz cut that screamed ex-CIA. Carl Zander, deputy chief, investigations division, was as dull as an accountant, probably ex-FBI. Bill Tricaricco, director of field agents, had bad breath and a cop’s big belly. Billy had pulled the wool over Tricaricco at the Hard Rock years ago and wondered if he still held a grudge.

  “So you’re the infamous Billy Cunningham,” LaBadie said. “I’ve heard your name so many times, I thought there were five of you.”

  “I get around a lot,” Billy admitted.

  The room had a rectangular table with an old-fashioned tape recorder and five wooden chairs. Billy sat down at the table with his lawyer, while the gaming agents remained standing.

  “For your information, we’re going to record this conversation,” LaBadie said.

  “By all means. My client has nothing to hide,” Billy’s lawyer said.

  LaBadie started the tape recorder. He picked up a microphone and recited the date, time, and location of where the interrogation was taking place, then identified the five individuals in the room. Finished, he placed the mike down and cleared his throat.

  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take notes,” the lawyer said.

  “Go right ahead,” LaBadie said.

  Underman retrieved an alligator briefcase from the floor and placed it on the table. He lifted the lid so Billy could see the copy of that day’s Las Vegas Review-Journal resting inside the briefcase, but the gaming agents could not. The screaming headline was impossible to miss.

  Casino Melee Leaves Seven Dead

  Billy’s stomach did a flip-flop. Had one of his crew bought the farm during the heist? There was no TV or Internet in the jail, and he had no way of knowing if they’d gotten out with their skins. His eyes quickly scanned the story. Five people had died violently inside a penthouse office, while another two had been ambushed by the cops Bonnie and Clyde–style on a street behind Galaxy’s casino. The names of the dead were included in the article, and he felt the air trapped in his lungs slowly escape. The bad guys had died, and his crew was safe.

  But there was more to the article than just a description of the carnage. Several Galaxy patrons had been injured as the gaming board had staged its raid, most notably “a retired businessman who’d come to Las Vegas to marry off his daughter, and been mistakenly shot by a gaming agent.” An accompanying photo showed the terrified faces of tourists fleeing the casino with a caption that read, “Can Vegas survive this nightmare?”

  Underman removed a yellow legal pad and gold pen and dropped both onto the table. The briefcase was shut and returned to the floor.

  Billy rocked back in his chair. Vegas was good about hiding its sins; a lot of bad things that went down here never made the news. But this story had hit the wires, and the town was in serious damage control. Underman had just dealt him a powerful hand; how he played his cards was up to him.

  Five bottled waters sat on the table. He picked up one and unscrewed the top. He’d known the seven people who’d died yesterday, and he realized that they were the only ones who really knew what had gone down. Last man standing had its advantages, and by the time the water bottle was empty, he’d come up with a story for the gaming agents that just might keep him from going to prison.

  “Let’s get started,” LaBadie said. “We want you to explain to us what you were doing inside Galaxy’s casino yesterday afternoon. Take your time, and don’t leave anything out.”

  “It all started on Wednesday night,” Billy said. “That’s when I got the phone call.”

  “You got a phone call on Wednesday night.”

  “That’s right.”

  “From who?”

  “A guy named Captain Crunch. His friends call him Crunchie. If it wasn’t for that phone call, I never would have ended up at the Galaxy.”

  “All right. Start there, and don’t leave anything out.”



  Vegas was hustler heaven, with over a hundred casinos that never closed. A smart hustler could have five operations going and spend his night making withdrawals like they were ATMs. Two hundred here, another two hundred there—it all added up to a decent night’s pay.

  Those scores paid the bills, but it was the big takedowns that bought the houses and the fancy toys. Every casino had chinks in the armor that could be exploited. Every casino could be taken down. That was where the crews came in, and the planning.

  Billy’s crew was in a grind joint on Fremont Street called the Four Queens. Foul cigarette smoke, stinking ashtrays, perfume turned sour on little old ladies sweating out their Social Security checks, combined with flashing slot machines gave the joint its special charm. It was supper time, and they were about to rip the place off for thirty grand.

  His crew consisted of seven members, each of whom had a specific job. The big dude shooting the dice was a sleight-of-hand expert named Travis. The luscious brunette and redhead distractions at the far end of the craps table were Misty and Pepper. And the two college-aged boys who’d actually place the bets and take off the game were Morris and Cory.

  Billy was the captain and gave the orders. Nothing happened without his say-so.

  The casinos knew Billy, so he took precautions. Tonight he wore a sleeveless T-shirt and fake buckteeth that made him look like a country bumpkin. No security guards were sniffing around, and he signaled Travis to start the play. The big man scooped the dice off the table.

  “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” Travis said.

  Three casino employees worked the game: a boxman to watch the money, a dealer to supervise bets and make payoffs, and a stickman who moved the dice around the felt with a hook-shaped stick. To keep them distracted, Misty and Pepper wiggled their asses and flashed plenty of cleavage. Before joining Billy’s crew, they’d done porno, and were not the bashful type.

  Stealing a die off a craps table was a gutsy play, but it could be done. Travis threw one die down the table, while secretly thumb-palming the second in his enormous hand. The human eye could only watch one moving object at a time. As the lone die ricocheted off the wall, Misty and Pepper jumped back, pretending the second die had jumped off the table and grazed them.

  “You hit me!” Misty said.

  “Me, too,” Pepper chorused.

  “Die on the floor,” the stickman announced.

  Resting his arm on the table, Travis dropped the stolen die into Billy’s glass of Coke, where it floated to the bottom and disappeared. The boxman shot Travis a suspicious look. Travis turned his hand over, exposing a clean palm.

  “Be more careful next time,” the boxman scolded.

  “I will,” Travis said.

  Play was halted as the stickman hunted for the lost die. Eventually, the search was called off and the stickman returned to the table. Reaching into the white plastic bowl on the table, the stickman sent a new pair of dice down the felt with his stick.

  “Not so hard this time,” the stickman said.

  “You got it,” Travis replied.

  Travis scooped up the new pair, and play resumed. Billy watched the three employees to make sure they were cool with the play. No one had felt a breeze, and he headed for the front door with the stolen die.

  He hustled down the sidewalk on the south side of Fremont Street. Old downtown was the pits, the sidewalk filled with nasty-looking hookers and panhandlers. On the corner stood Cory and Morris, having a smoke. Both had curly mops of hair and could have been stand-ins for the actor Daniel Radcliffe. They had aspirat
ions to one day run their own crew and would have scrubbed toilets if Billy told them to.

  “Hey, Billy. Everything cool?” Cory asked.

  “Everything’s cool,” Billy said. “You gents ready?”

  They both dipped their chins. Billy had to believe they were two of the most innocent-looking thieves in town. It was one of the reasons he’d recruited them.

  “Be back in a few,” he said.

  “We’ll be waiting,” Morris said.

  Billy entered the city parking garage on Fremont and climbed the stairwell to the second level, where the rented stretch limo he used for his jobs was parked. Earlier that evening, he’d picked up his crew from their homes, the limo stocked with cold drinks and deli sandwiches. None of the cheats who’d ever run with him could say he hadn’t treated them well.

  Leon sat on the limo’s hood, plugged into his MP3 player. He was a square john but did not care that Billy was a cheat. Driving Billy’s crew around was better than selling dope or pimping, which was how a lot of limo drivers made a buck. Leon unplugged himself.

  “Your teeth are funky. Where’d you get ’em?” he asked.

  Billy pulled the fake teeth out of his mouth and slipped them into his pocket. “Party City. They’ve got lots of cool stuff. I need you to call the Golden Steer and make a reservation for eight. Ask for one of the private rooms. We’re eating steak tonight.”

  “What time?”

  “Make it an hour from now.”

  “You got it, boss.”

  Billy climbed into the backseat of the limo. Gabe, the seventh member of his crew, lay sprawled across the rear seat, watching college basketball on the miniature TV while chowing on a sandwich. Seeing Billy, he sprang to attention.

  “How did it go?” Gabe asked.

  “Travis was a star tonight. So were the girls.”

  Billy had discovered Gabe in a mall working at a jewelry kiosk, and had seen a real talent in his chubby hands. Gabe’s job was to manufacture the gaffed casino equipment Billy’s crew used in their heists, an investment that had paid off handsomely. Fishing the stolen die out of his drink, he dropped it in Gabe’s hand. Gabe stole a glance at the game’s score before killing the picture.

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