Jack Scribe

Chapter 20, REGROUPING

Cray made record time pedaling home after he got the call on his cell from Bob. He had been over at Benny's home playing three-on-three basketball with his friends on this lazy December Sunday afternoon. Cray was now a solid part of the pack that included Michael, Chris, Tim, Glenn and Benny.

Bob's brief conversation was very clear: there were some confidential, serious problems associated with Gallian Industries that were affecting their family. He suggested Cray tell his friends that there was a little family emergency and he had to get home. Bob added, "Just act nonchalant. We need to keep this quiet and deal with it as a family unit." Cray made his apologies, told Michael he'd call later that evening and took off.

"Yes, I understand," Drew said as Cray entered the apartment. "Don't worry...I'm on it."

Cray bumped knuckles with Bob and watched Drew nod as he listened intently. 'Must be Nick on the phone,' he thought. He felt the moist, sweat-infused front of his tee and casually took a fast whiff-check of his left pit area. 'Gotta shower soon,' he thought.

"Try to rest and I'll meet you in your suite in less than an hour. Take care." Drew flipped off his cell and walked over to Cray. "Hi, buddy." He pulled his son into a brief hug and added, "Thanks for getting over here so fast."

"We got problems?" Cray asked after the two stepped back. He remembered too late, and his sweat was now a blotchy part of Drew's shirt. "Whazzup?"

"There was an explosion over at Nick's house a little while ago. Gas line or something like that. Anyway, Rod Liddy was killed. Fortunately Nick and the others were out back by the pool."

"Holy samolie. Uncle Rod's dead?" Cray frowned, swallowed hard and pondered the news. "How awful. Is Uncle Nick okay?" Nick had insisted Cray refer to them as 'uncles' after the adoption.

"Just shaken up. Obviously, he's mourning and trying to pick up the pieces," Drew replied.

"You should be aware that Lou and Al were also at the house. It was a family meeting because of an earlier tragedy back East." Bob looked at Drew and continued, "Lou's mom was in an auto accident around 8:00 a.m., our time. Mrs. Gallian died instantly."

"Shit." Cray looked at Bob and shook his head. He didn't use swear words at home but felt this was acceptable under the circumstances. "What about Lou and Al?"

"Doing fine," Drew said. "Lou's in the hospital for observation but will probably be released tomorrow sometime. Al didn't get a scratch."

"What about Spike?"

"He was at their condo when the accident occurred. I was just told he's visiting Lou at the hospital." Drew gestured to the couch and added, "Let's all sit down for a few minutes. What I'm going to tell you now is just between the three of us."

Cray was a little confused since it was starting to seem that there was more to this shocking news. 'Jeez, Rod Liddy and Mrs. Gallian gone. What else?' he wondered as he sank into the leather easy chair. He observed his two dads had uncustomary solemn expressions on their faces.

"I'm not going to ask that we seal this in blood or anything, but this conversation can't go any further...not even with Michael," Drew said.

"I understand. No sweat." Cray knew that this was 'deep doo-doo' time and mentally accepted the terms. He was proud to be a part of this family and wouldn't jeopardize the relationship. 'If they don't want Michael to know, I will respect that.'

"Nick and the Gallian family members think that what happened today in New York and here were no accidents. There's some other stuff I can't get into but the point is, Nick's pretty sure competing organizations aren't too happy with the company's success and growth." Drew paused for a moment and looked at Bob. "This was an ill-advised attempt to cripple us and send a strong message; maybe try to take over the company."

"You mean they murdered Mrs. Gallian, an' it wasn't an accident?" Cray asked.

"Yep. Looks like they were waiting for the other members of the family to gather at Nick and Rod's house," Bob replied with a frown. "These animals - whoever they are - were pretty sure Nick would call a meeting when news got out about Mrs. Gallian. They had all their resources positioned and just waited for our guys to take the bait."

"Man, that sucks." Cray shook his head as he considered what had just been said. 'Could have been a total wipeout in moments,' he thought, 'if everything had gone as planned.'

"Yeah, really sucks." Drew leaned forward and looked intently at Cray. "As you can imagine, Nick has his hands full in addition to grieving for Rod. He's asked me to temporarily take charge of Barcelona until things calm down. I'm told they have several leads on the people behind the attacks."

"Then there's the task of arranging funerals, et cetera," Bob added. "Drew and I are going to move into the hotel for the rest of the week because of the crazy schedule we're going to have. Drew's workload is going to be a ball buster. Plus, my sister is due very soon. Al and Trish are expecting a girl - I'll probably be a gofer for the expectant mother."

"So, we'd like you to stay with Michael for a while. Maybe as much as five days. Bob and I would feel better if you were with your friend rather than coming home at night to an empty house. Is that okay with you? I wanted to clear this with you before I call Bud Turner."

"Absolutely long as his dad is cool with it." Cray decided not to state the obvious about certain rather positive aspects about the upcoming sleeping arrangements. "We've got Tai Chi on Tuesday night, the SAT study sessions finished last week and we're outta school for Christmas this coming Friday."

"Good. I'll call Bud and make sure he's agreeable to acquiring another son for a week," Drew winked and picked up his phone.

"I should call Spike and find out how Lou is," Cray said to Bob. "Spike's brother, Henry, is coming for a visit after his school lets out. I wonder if he's still going to be coming?"

"Probably too early to figure out. Lou's traveling back to New York tomorrow night to be with his dad and attend his mom's funeral. Spike will stay back here, so he'd probably appreciate his brother's company." Bob got up and said, "I'll get water for all of us."

Cray listened carefully when Drew reached Bud Turner. The events of the day - the public version - were explained to Michael's father. 'Almost like it was a script,' he thought. Bud had heard the news on the car radio and was somewhat relieved to know more details about the tragic death. As expected, Bud was happy to allow Cray to stay at his and Michael's home for the week. Drew said that Cray would pack enough clothes for the stay and he'd be over within the hour.


The distant expression on Nick's face was completely different from any that Drew had ever seen in the years they had worked together. The two had greeted each other with a hug when Drew entered the hotel suite, and he offered condolences to Nick as they sat down. 'I'll let Nick tell me as much as he wants to,' Drew thought as he studied his boss, 'rather than push him for details. Kinda odd to see him wearing only a terrycloth robe.'

"I don't think Cray is in any danger," Nick said. "I just thought it was prudent for you to pack him off to a friend's house until we get a firm handle on this situation."

"He'll be fine. Cray's only aware that I was needed here and we didn't want him alone at the apartment. I told him it'd probably be about five days. However, it's your call concerning any timetable." Drew purposely spoke in vague terms.

"I can tell you these cocksuckers will regret the day they screwed with us," Nick said in menacing, measured tones. "I don't know who they thought they were dealing with...they do now." He paused and took a sip of water. "Rod and my sister. Plus a lifetime of memories gone in an instant." Nick looked at the Evian bottle and shook his head. "Thank God, Big Al came out of this without a scratch."

"You know who is responsible for this and why?" Drew knew what had happened was bigger than just competing forces going after the casino business. But the vague rumors concerning Gallian's ties to the underworld made it impossible to 'connect the dots'.

"Cutthroat Russians who didn't do their homework. I think they've been watching too many old American movies." Nick sighed, leaned back into the overstuffed chair and looked at Drew. "I know you're aware of the big picture with Big Al, my brother-in-law and the general nature of all our businesses."

"Pretty much public record."

"Yes, pretty much...but not quite. Five years ago, it was decided, in addition to Gallian Industries, to focus on international casino resorts. They slowly divested some of the 'mature' enterprises that didn't offer growth opportunities."

"What other enterprises?" Drew asked. An official red flag was going up in his head.

"Nothing that needs to be discussed. It's past history concerning Mr. Gallian's granddad and dad. But these Russian bastards thought they could take what remains of our holdings on the cheap. When we resisted, they thought they could just grab what they wanted."

"And with the key members of the family eliminated, bank on disorganization and move in on the businesses?" Drew decided to accept Nick's explanation at face value and not push it any further. 'There are some things I'm better off not knowing,' he decided.

"That was the plan as we read it. The dumb bastards killed Rod and my sister instead. They didn't realize we've been watching their bases of operations in New York and L.A. for some time. When today's attempts on our lives happened, Mr. Gallian set into action an offensive that was planned a couple of months ago. It'll take a little while to judge its effectiveness, but initial reports are positive. The bosses are still on the loose. One's in Moscow; the other in London."

"How about the people who blew up your house?" Drew felt it wasn't necessary to add 'and killed Rod'.

"Hired assassins. The police found an abandoned panel truck not far from our house. They think that was the vehicle used. We're not sure where they are - and the assumption is that there are at least two. That's why there is protection at Lou's condo. Trish and young Al are being driven to L.A. by a security detail as we speak. They'll stay at the Bromley estate and she'll have the baby at Cedars-Sinai. As a precaution, they're not using cell phones on the road. Bob can call them tonight at Big Al's place."

"I'll be sure and bring Bob up to speed." Drew knew that this was the safest place for the expectant mother and father. "What exactly can I tell him?"

"Don't mention anything about those 'other enterprises' - they're not relevant to the casino division. Until things get sorted out, I'd appreciate you staying 'on script'. The less who know about what actually happened is for the best at this point."

"How about the attempt on Mr. Bromley's life in L.A.?"

"Completely on the Q.T. for now. Just for the record, there were several things that I never discussed with Rod concerning past routine business arrangements. It's all in the past anyway...on several fronts." Nick looked down at the floor and brushed back a tear.

"What else can I do to help?" Drew decided to take Nick at his word and move on to the current tasks ahead.

"Keep the ship afloat while I'm away. Rod's remains are being cremated and there's not much to be salvaged from the house. Once the investigators are finished, I've given orders for the debris to be cleared. Lou and I are leaving tomorrow night for New York. I suspect we'll be there for a week or so. Separately, Big Al is flying east from L.A." Nick stood and said, "I think I'm going to rest a little while Marge runs around Nieman Marcus to buy clothes for me. They've got all my sizes and have called in a tailor. Marge knows you're in charge and will help wherever she can."

"I'll ask her to stop by my room when she returns so we can start an action plan." Marge Solomon had been Nick's Administrative Assistant for the last five years and knew the business almost as well as Nick. "Bob and I are right across the hall if you need us. I understand that no one is booked on this floor?"

"And the elevators are keyed off. Until I leave, there'll be security in the hallway." Nick walked with Drew to the door. He paused, took Drew's hand and squeezed it. "Rod and I had so many plans for retirement," he said with a slight quiver in his voice. "Now, the only thing I have left will be a memorial service that's planned for two weeks from now. Helluva Christmas." Nick kissed Drew's cheek and added, "Thanks for your help. We'll get through this."

After they hugged, Drew quietly left Nick to sort out his life. He nodded to the guard - one of Barcelona's top men - at the end of the hallway before entering his suite. 'First thing is to get unpacked,' he thought as he grabbed his bags and walked to the bedroom. 'Bob will probably get here soon.' He had packed a variety of shirts and ties to go with two suits. He figured he could get by with such a limited wardrobe. 'There's always valet service available if I make a slob of myself at lunch. And I can run home with one of the guys if I need something else.' He toed off his shoes, pulled off his socks and set about unpacking.

Although it was said without further comment, Nick had told Drew to be on his guard. Until the bad guys were corralled, the key executives of the resort should be on the defensive. This was the real reason for Cray going to Michael's house. In addition, Bob's sister was a Bromley. Therefore the two men and their son were doubly close to the vortex of danger - real or imagined. Drew doubted he was in jeopardy but decided to cautiously heed the advice.

'That's a pretty good idea,' he thought when he remembered Nick was lounging in a terrycloth robe. 'Might as well get comfortable and relax while I can.' Drew quickly got out of his trousers and shirt and was hanging them up when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

"Man, what a way to check out the hotel facilities. I come to my room and find a naked man in the bedroom." Bob snickered and walked closer to Drew, who was wearing only briefs. He slid his hands around Drew's waist and moved his fingers down between the elastic band of the briefs and Drew's trimmed pubic area. "Hmmm. I think we need to christen this room tonight." He reached further and stroked Drew's not quite flaccid penis.

"You have me at a disadvantage." Drew removed Bob's hands and turned around. "Why don't you unpack first?" He leaned in and kissed Bob before asking, "I assume Cray is safely deposited over with Michael?"

"Happily so, I would say. Our son's hormone-charged body will probably also be very pleased with the arrangement."

" his two dads," Drew replied with a snort. "You don't have to be a teen to be horny."

"A good point. I did suggest that Cray be respectful of his host and keep things on the quiet side in the bedroom." Bob turned on his cherubic expression and rolled his eyes.

"Cray gets his moaning from you." Drew smiled as he recalled a few occasions when Bob and he had heard unmistakable noises coming from Cray's bedroom. "Do you think that Cray and Michael are going all the way yet?"

"Hard to tell but I don't think so. I offered to give him some tips on the matter but nothing has come up. I suspect that Spike is probably the 'go-to' guy for sex info since they're closer in age. But he'll probably let us know when it happens."

"You're right and he's aware we're available for advice." Drew and Bob had made it very clear when Cray joined them that they considered safe consensual sex between two same-age guys acceptable and normal...regardless of conventional wisdom.

"How'd your meeting with Nick go? Poor guy." Bob looked at Drew and shook his head.

"About what I expected. I need to tell you that Trish and Al have left for L.A. They're going to stay there and have the birth take place at Cedars-Sinai. For security, they're not using cell phones but you can call them tonight at Al's folks' home."


"There are a few other things Nick discussed that I want you to know." Drew went into the 'official' sanitized version of the violence and the reasons why these attempts on the family in had taken place - in Las Vegas and New York.

Bob listened attentively and asked a few general questions. Finally, he tilted his head and said, "It sounds like the situation is under control...but you're going to be a busy man."

"Never too busy for you." Drew was satisfied the discussion went well and decided to change gears. "Here's what I think we should do. You unpack, get out of those duds and let's take a 'nap'. It's about 4:00 and we've had a busy afternoon. Then we can shower and order room service. I brought our 'nap' supplies." Drew had grabbed their bottle of Wet when he packed.

"Oh, I like your thinking. Let me get my bag and bring it in." Bob swatted Drew's butt and went back to the living area.

While Bob unpacked his clothes, Drew turned down the bed covers and rid himself of his briefs. As they did at home, Drew laid out a large towel on the bed. 'No reason to give the housekeepers evidence to gossip about,' he thought. By the time he returned from the bathroom to retrieve the small bottle of Wet, his blond hunk of a partner was stretched out on the bed...right on target.

"Get in here, hot stuff," Bob growled. "That hard dick of yours needs company."


Cray and Michael settled in on the living room couch to watch the last half of a Lakers game while Bud went to the store for more food. Cray knew Bob had given Bud Turner - under protest - money to take care of the extra expenses of feeding another perpetually hungry teen. Although both guys were physically somewhere between contentment and perpetual arousal, they knew patience would be rewarded at bedtime. The last thing they wanted was another surprise walk-in on the part of Michael's dad.

"I think that's funny about what Bob told you, Mr. Moaner."

"Like you're so proper and quiet...especially when I stick my fingers up your butt and find that spot," Cray replied with a laugh. "He was only concerned that we not be so obvious about what we do in the bedroom. I think it's kinda neat he'd think like that."

"Just jerkin' your chain, doofus. We've both got pretty cool dads. And you've got two of them."

"I'm dying to meet your dad's date." Cray had been told by Bob that Mr. Turner was planning on having over a guy for a cookout that evening. Although Bud Turner had offered to cancel the invitation, Bob said Cray would be comfortable with another gay adult...if Bud and his friend didn't object.

"I've met him once and he's a pretty nice guy. Professor over at UNLV." Michael shrugged and smiled. "Me and my dad being out to each other is still pretty new."

"Wouldn't it be a gas if he brought home one of our high school teachers. Like that hot Mr. Hudson from chemistry." Michael rolled his eyes and growled, "Woof."

"Or the assistant basketball coach. If I were taller, I'd go out for the team just to be around that stud."

"In your dreams...ya got me. Remember?" Michael scooted closer and licked Cray on the ear.

"Don't start something you can't finish." Cray grinned and slid his hand over to Michael's bulging crotch.

"Who says we can't finish it?"

"Your dad brings home Mr. Right and the place smells like used dick juice. I don't think so." He ran his hand over the length of Michael's woodie and added, "Although it is tempting. We've got plenty of time tonight. Just make sure we open a window." Cray smiled when Michael's hand reciprocated with a few gentle tugs on his erection. "Enough, enough. I don't want to have wet stains on my pants when your dad returns."

"Turn on Channel 3, if ya don't mind. The five o'clock news is just about ready to come on. I'd like to see what the hell happened to Uncle Nick's house." Except for the bare details as he had been given, for Michael's consumption, Cray didn't know much else.

"Me, too." Michael took the remote and clicked on the channel. "The guy on Channel 8 is cute but 3's got better news."

"Horn dog."

They watched the end of a commercial and they patiently sat through the 'Urgent', 'Live', 'Breaking News' taped lead-ins with several teases of the headlines before the weekend anchorwoman came on the screen.

"This is News 3 Tonight and I'm Connie Truitt. Stormy Rayne will have your first look at the weather a little later. The lead story continues to be the death of a Las Vegas community leader and the destruction of his home in the exclusive Wild Horse Country Club area of Green Valley. The fire and police departments responded to an emergency call around 1:00 this afternoon to investigate an explosion. Firefighters arrived and found only the smoldering ruins of a large home. Here's Rick Diaz reporting live from the scene."

"Connie, what fire and police officials are describing as a powerful explosion, as the result of an ignited gas leak, leveled the 5,000 square foot home behind me in this normally quiet residential area. Police are reporting one fatality. The victim is executive vice president of the Nieman Marcus store at Fashion Show Mall, Rod Liddy. They tell us Mr. Liddy was entertaining friends when the blast occurred. His remains were identified about an hour ago. Fortunately, his guests were out by the pool at the time of the explosion and suffered only minor injuries. The president of the new Barcelona resort, Nick Maggiano, the other resident of the destroyed home, is currently in seclusion. Neighbors describe Mr. Liddy and Mr. Maggiano as leaders in the community, who frequently used their home to entertain VIPs visiting Las Vegas."

Cray watched silently as the reporter narrated videotape that showed in detail the scope of the destruction. Beyond the rubble, he recognized the landscaped pool area where he had first met Lou Gallian. Other taped segments included short interviews with the battalion fire chief and a police spokesman. The reporter said there was general agreement that the cause was a faulty natural gas connection in the house and no further investigation would be necessary.

"Officials of Nieman Marcus said that Rod Liddy - a career executive and member of the Las Vegas social community - was instrumental to their store's success and would certainly be missed. A memorial service for Mr. Liddy is being planned for two weeks from today. The elegant estate was reduced to rubble, as you can see and I'm told it will be cleared next week. Reporting from Green Valley, I'm Rick Diaz. Connie, back to you."

"Thank you, Rick. In other news..."

Cray clicked the mute button and shook his head. "Wow. I was there for a cookout one time. It was quite a house and Rod was a classy guy. You think people will pick up on Rod and Nick being roommates?"

"Don't think it much matters. We know that Nick, as our dads' boss at Barcelona, is a top guy. I can only assume that Rod was thought of in the same way at Nieman Marcus. Plus, this story will be forgotten within a month."

"You're right. Life goes on and the public has a short memory." Cray knew Michael didn't realize how close he was to the truth. Drew had been very clear that this was a story the corporation wanted to go away quickly.


While Spike spent a couple of hours hovering around his lover, Mario waited at the hospital and conducted business from his cell phone. He was concerned the people responsible for the carnage at Nick's house were still on the loose. Concerned because, as paid assassins, they would probably not give up until their contract was fulfilled. During the afternoon, Mario relayed to Lou the travel plans to go back to New York for his mother's funeral. Before leaving, Spike promised to return the next morning, bring clean clothes and assist in his discharge from the hospital.

The drive from the hospital was mostly quiet since both Spike and Mario were in deep thought. Mario's mind was as active as a 'master' playing a game of chess - anticipating future moves on the board. The 'company' had made their initial retaliatory moves...but it was too early to assess the results. 'Security is as tight as a virgin's asshole,' he thought as they approached the street back to the condo, 'but we're still faced with too many unknowns here in Vegas.'

Mario flipped on his cell phone and punched in a number. He frowned after getting no response and hit re-dial. He turned to Spike and said, "Jack up in the condo isn't answering his cell. This isn't good." He put his thumb on the keypad and dialed a different number.

"Maybe we're going through a bad receiving zone for cells?"

"In Vegas? No way." Mario nodded when his call was picked up after the first ring and said sternly, "Send out the troops. This is a code red at the Gallian condo - Jack isn't picking up his cell. See you there." He closed his phone and accelerated.

"Code Red? You think there's a problem at the condo?" Spike asked with a frown. They were two blocks away from the security gate.

"Jack would have answered without hesitation. The drill is to keep the cell on 'vibrate' and pick up within three rings. My call went into voicemail." Mario drove the Mercedes coupe across the last intersection and saw the condo tower majestically looming in the foreground. "Call me overly-cautious but I don't want to make any errors. Lou was taken to Sunrise under an alias so chances are they may think he's at the condo."

"I understand," Spike replied in a worried mumble.

"We're going to park on the street outside the gate entrance and wait for our guys to arrive. When they get here, we'll get in one of the cars and all drive to the gate. There'll be two cars so you'll need to let the guard know the people in the second car are your guests. Give their names as Smitty Wesson and Sam Colt if the guard needs some sort of record. Tell the guard that you'd like them to park in the front for a few minutes so you can give them some packages. Something like that. Also, ask if there have been any other visitors at the gate in the past hour or less."

"I can do that. These 'guests' of mine are..."

"Licensed private investigators with fire arm permits. All this is strictly by the book." Mario slowed down, cruised to a halt by the curb across from the gated entry to Mondrian Tower and turned off his headlights. "Just so you know, all the men work for Gallant Security International of the legit operations."

"Christ, what good is the gated security if these Russian goons can get in?" Spike's tone indicated he was getting alarmed.

"Gate guards keep out the tourists and petty criminals. These assholes are pros - paid assassins - and it's nothing personal. Just business. But our guys are pros, too." Mario stopped his conversation as two black Chevy Tahoe SUVs with dark, tinted windows pulled up. Mario got out of his car, spoke briefly to each driver and returned to his car.

"The artillery has arrived?" Spike asked as Mario opened the door.

"You got it, champ. Here's what's going to happen. I'm leaving my car on the street and we're going to get into the lead SUV. When we get in the lobby, you take some of the guys to the service elevator. Give them the back door key and come back to the lobby. I don't want you in on something that's way over your head. No offense; this is time for the trained specialists."

"I have no desire to be a hero and get my head blown off."

"Good. Let's roll." Mario closed the door and watched as Spike got out. "Get into the seat behind the driver. That way you can easily talk with the guard." When they were both in the back seat, Mario tapped the shoulder of the driver. They slowly drove across the street and up the sweeping driveway to the guardhouse.

Spike turned and watched the other SUV follow them. As they stopped at the guard station, he opened his window and stuck out his head so the guard would recognize him. "Hi, Sam. Spike Jensen."

"Yes, sir. Returning for the evening?"

"With some friends. Please allow the other SUV behind me to enter. If it's not a problem, would it be okay for us to park out front for a few minutes?  I have some packages for them and it won't be long."

"No problem, Mr. Jensen. It's a quiet Sunday evening."

"Sam, have there been any other visitors recently at the gate?"

"Not for you or Mr. Gallian. There were three guys who came in about a half-hour ago. Mr. Bernstein up on 22 called earlier and arranged for them to enter. Their car is still in the garage."

"I've met Mr. Bernstein. Nice old guy who doesn't get out very much. Were these guys friends of his?" Spike asked with a casual smile.

"Guess...but it was kinda strange. All three were pretty young and in good shape. Didn't say much."

"Thanks, Sam." Spike watched the metal gate slowly swing open and they drove forward. "Whatdaya think about this info?"

"Slight change of plans. Take one of the guys with you to the garage. You still have that old Honda?" Mario asked.

" all its sun baked glory."

"Here's what I want you to do." They pulled up by the tower entrance and the driver shut off the engine. Mario saw that the other SUV had stopped directly behind them. "After you show the guys where the service elevator is, go down to the garage, move your car so it blocks the exit area and hide behind a parked car back in a corner. Just a precautionary move...and I'll buy you some new wheels if the Honda is damaged."

"Hell, 95,000 miles and it's just getting broken in," Spike replied with a weak smile.

Mario got out of the SUV and watched as everyone joined him. Each man carried a small black bag that looked more like a briefcase. In addition to Spike and three men in the first vehicle, three more men got out of the other SUV. He knew all the men were recent combat Special Forces veterans and thoroughly trained. "Spike is going to show two of you the service elevator and give you the key to the back door of the condo," he said to the group from the second SUV. "The other man will go down to the garage and cover that area. Spike's going to block the exit with his car down there just in case. Another man should keep watch here by the SUVs. I'll be with you other guys to take the front door of the backup only." He wasn't qualified to lead the recon task force and left it to the professionals. 'I'd only be a liability,' he thought as he walked with the men into the lobby of the tower.

Spike greeted the front desk attendant and said that his friends were over to pick up some packages and would be back soon. He walked around with his security detail to a door that led to the service elevator while Mario and the others went into the passenger elevator vestibule. Both elevators were shown as being on the ground floor and the doors of one slid open immediately. Once the doors closed and they were on the way to the 39th floor, each man drew their weapons - Micro UZI assault pistols - out of their black bags. Each pistol contained 30 rounds. Mario put on a pair of surgical gloves and was given a more conventional semi-automatic handgun.

Mario wished the soft bell announcing the arrival of the elevator could be silenced, but it was too late to handle that detail as they leveled off at the 39th floor. Each man stepped out into the foyer, set down their bags in a corner and stood on either side of the condo front door. Mario held his handgun in an aim position towards the door and crouched by the bags. He felt his body tingle with an adrenalin rush and watched as the shorter of the two men quietly inserted the key into the lock before turning it to engage the latch.

Just then, a volley of gunshots rang out from the condo. Mario became hyper-focused as the two men opened the door and entered the condo. Gunfire ensued - the assault pistols kicking out a rapid response - and garbled voices could be heard shouting. The words were impossible to understand but Mario thought he identified the language as Russian. He ground his teeth together as a male form appeared at the doorway. He was dressed in black and carried a weapon. 'Not one of ours,' Mario thought as he targeted the man's left chest and fired three rounds.

The stranger, with a menacing glare, staggered into the foyer and slowly leveled his gun. "No way, muthafucker," Mario yelled as he fired again. This time a bright red dot appeared on the man's forehead and a splatter of red soiled the wall behind him. He grunted and gurgled as he fell backward.

"We've put one down in the dining room," one of the security men said as he appeared at the door, "but another one got away. He's going down the service elevator...probably on the way to the garage." He looked down at the lifeless body and added, "See your jarhead training came in handy. Thanks. We've radioed the guys downstairs to be on the lookout for a target."

"Any other casualties? Did Jack make it?" Mario thought he already knew the answer. His heavy breathing was the only element that betrayed his exterior of controlled calmness.

"Jack's gone and we've got two injuries - the guys who went in through the back door - that aren't life threatening. Fuckers shot Jack from behind. My guess is that they were waiting for Mr. Gallian to return home. Must have been a team of three. Probably the same men who did that number on the house."

"Let's go inside and see the other guys," Mario said. "As soon as things are resolved downstairs, I've got to boogey. Make sure one of your guys' fingerprints finds their way onto this piece I'm leaving behind." He placed the gun on the marble floor and followed the security man into the condo. Mario needed to leave the scene of the crime as soon as the final guy was apprehended or killed.

"In here," the security man said, indicating the dining room. "My partner has swept the rest of the place. Jack's body is in the den."

They quickly walked past a crumpled body by the dining room table and went into the kitchen. One of the security men was sitting on a chair and the other was propped up against the wall on the floor. Both knew the 'drill' and gave Mario a thumbs up sign. There was no time for conversations.

The unharmed security man in the kitchen smiled. "Just got word from Gus in the garage. Our suspect did appear, jumped into a car and sped away. He either didn't see the Honda at the garage exit or thought he could crash through. Gus says that there was quite a violent impact and death was instant. Apparently the crash has set off several auto alarms. Says it sounds like Times Square."

"Okay, let's call 9-1-1 pronto. Time to get Las Vegas's finest involved and EMS for our buddies," the lead security man said to his partner. "I'll make sure Gus briefs young Spike on what to say to the police."

"I'll contact our lawyer ASAP so he can create some damage control with the Chief," Mario replied. The legal counsel for Gallian Industries worked closely with the chief of police so that the corporation maintained a low profile in emergencies like this. 'Two miracles needed in one day,' he thought. 'The last thing we need is for three corpses to be linked with Gallian.'

"Mario, you should make an exit by the back stairway, blend into the crowd on the ground floor and ease away. Thanks, man. That was awesome in the foyer."

"All in a day's work. I'm outta here." Mario started to walk away when he abruptly stopped and turned around. "It's important you hold the gun in the foyer so your prints are identifiable and tell the cops about Bernstein up on 22. Hopefully he wasn't harmed." He was convinced the man had been duped into setting up the entry.

"And you need to take off the gloves before you go out of the building." The two men tapped knuckles.

"Oh, one more thing. Bring Spike over to my place after the police are finished. He'll stay with me until this mess can be cleaned up. Good work tonight. I'll make sure everybody is aware of how well things went."

"We'll deliver your guy as soon as we can. I'm sure it'll be a couple of hours."

"Right." Mario nodded to the man on the telephone and made his exit. While running down the steps of the stairway, he felt some satisfaction at having been part of an assault team again. 'Once a Marine, always a Marine,' he thought as he reached the ground floor. 'Semper Fi.' He took off the gloves, stuffed them in his pocket and opened the door with the crash bar. As expected, a crowd was milling around the destruction at the garage and didn't notice him walk away.



A special acknowledgement to Drew for encouraging me to tell a better story through his edits and suggestions. And a big thanks to Brad for his patient proofreading and editing. Finally, a shout-out to Trab for the final tweaks to get the story 'just right.'

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