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The word is that Jesse Robinson is dead. But when Cole Springer goes to Vegas at the behest of Jesse's father, he finds Jesse very much alive. Unless Springer can figure out what's going on--he won't be alive for very long. Jesse believes that whoever killed his "double" was really trying to kill him, only he doesn't know why--or who was killed in his place. The Vegas strip is full of murder, robberies and red-hot former flames in this fast-paced tale.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
W.L. RIPLEY is the author of the critically acclaimed Wyatt Storme mystery series. He lives in Missouri.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Las Vegas, Nevada, July 1995
"Community service," that's what they told Springer when he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace. They gave him twenty hours, and he did it at the local Salvation Army loading these huge bales of clothing that would be shipped to SA posts that would distribute them to the needy. The really good stuff went to the SA stores to be sold.
He'd disturbed the peace. Okay. He'd done more than that. He'd stolen a car. A car belonging to one Lonnie "Red" Cavanaugh. He hadn't really stolen it; he had kept it as collateral when Cavanaugh reneged on a bet. Cavanaugh bet Springer ten thousand--that's right, calling it ten dimes when he did it--bet Springer ten grand on a minor-league baseball game.
The bet, at first, was that "Snake" McNally, Red's nephew and a pitcher for the Vegas Triple-A team, would hold their opponent to less than four runs. Springer telling Cavanaugh he would go him one better and bet Red that McNally wouldn't get a single out in the game. "That's how bad the kid is," he'd said, trying to get Cavanaugh to jump at the bet.
Cavanaugh did jump at the bet--ten grand--laughing at Springer and telling him how he was going to regret this sucker bet and he could make a side bet on which batter would be the first out. But Springer told him how it didn't matter who made the first out because McNally wasn't going to get anybody out and was going to be replaced "sooner than you can imagine," then watched Cavanaugh get red in the face.
What Cavanaugh didn't know was that Springer had inside information on the game. It wasn't that Springer was a gambler or fixed the bet. It was a fluke, a coincidence.
He'd run into an old friend who played on the team. This guy told him that Snake was being sent down to A ball and was being bumped on the rotation by this "fee-nom" the friend told him the big club was wanting to bring up to the show for a pennant run in August.
"You see, the organ-I-zation be tired of Snake drinking and gambling and showing up at the park looking like the inside a flat tire. They also be tired of his ERA looking like a speed limit sign."
So Springer baited Red, who he didn't like, and the kid never started the game and Springer won the bet.
However, here's where the rub was.
See, Cavanaugh, being a poor sport, was of the opinion that his nephew not even getting to start the game somehow negated the wager. Springer pointing out to Cavanaugh that the bet was never that the kid was going to start the game and get somebody out; no, the bet was that McNally would not get anyone out and that he would be replaced sooner than you can imagine.
However, Cavanaugh being Cavanaugh, and a thug besides, told Springer he was not going to pay him. Springer protested, but with a couple of Cavanaugh's "employees" buttressing Cavanaugh's argument, Springer backed off.
But only for the moment.
Because Springer never backed off. Not then, not ever.
Instead, Springer hot-wired Cavanaugh's brand-new Cadillac El Dorado convertible and drove it around Vegas for a couple of days before parking it in the fountains at Caesar's, which made Cavanaugh madder than a Mormon at a Baptist tent revival and sent him to the doctor to be treated for "hypertension."
Cavanaugh had been on medication since that time in order to regulate his blood pressure.
"Wasn't for me, you'd never known," said Springer. "And you still owe me ten thousand dollars."
And it wasn't that Cavanaugh pressed charges on the Caddy. No, Red Cavanaugh wouldn't involve the police. He was allergic to law enforcement. It was Caesar's that pressed charges for putting the car in their fountain, Springer telling the manager, "You don't think it attracted a crowd?"
So he did his 20 hours and left town.
But not before Red Cavanaugh had a couple of his employees tell him that Red didn't want to see him back in town. Not ever.
But Springer slipped back into town once in a while.
Aspen, Colorado, Present
How it went for Springer was on Monday, Nate Robinson called Springer from his hospital room about the killing and how the Vegas police weren't doing anything about it. Las Vegas PD called Nate Robinson asking if they knew the whereabouts of his son. Nate told them he hadn't heard from Jesse in two months. When he asked them why they wanted to know, they asked if Nate could come to Vegas and help them clear up the identity of the body.
"They saying my boy was mugged," Nate told Springer. "Why beat him that bad they can't tell who he is, you tell me that?" This was one hour before Springer was supposed to go to the West Coast with Tobi Ryder. For weeks they'd been planning a trip to Carmel, do the Monterey coastline road trip, and Tobi had planned her vacation around it. Springer decided he had to look into this thing with Jesse Robinson. Jesse was a high school buddy got himself, apparently, crossways with some badasses who were tight with the Vegas establishment. The word was going out that Jesse was a two-time loser sliding down the ladder of the Vegas underworld, but his father wasn't buying it.
"My boy didn't run no drugs and he ain't no criminal," Nate told Springer. Springer wasn't so sure. Last time Springer talked to him, Jesse Robinson was wearing five-hundred-dollar suits and driving a Porsche Boxster, rattling $100 chips in his hand. Pit bosses and parking valets called him "Mr. Robinson." "You got to look at things different, Springs. It's a changing world, man, y'know. Look around. Take what you need, but don't empty out the store."
Springer figured Jesse had been up to something, but Nate Robinson made things different. Nate Robinson worked for Springer. Springer relied on the old man. They drank coffee together most mornings, played cards down at the barbershop Wednesday night after Nate got back from church. "Lord forgive me for gambling and for taking this poor fool's money." That's what he'd say after winning a hand while Springer would be reaching for another beer.
It was Nate Robinson brought him home-cooked meals from his church in an untidy time after Kristen died, about the time Springer started opening the Jack Daniel's on the way home from the liquor stores and it was Nate told him, "Straighten up, boy, you're acting like a damned fool. You know Kristen wouldn't like this. Why make her life of no account?"
And now it was Springer's turn to be there for Nate.
"Somebody's got to go, Cole," Nate said, his voice lacking the confident ring Springer was used to. "I hate to ask, but I can't think of no one else to go. He's my only child, and his mother, God rest her soul, been gone these many years."
So he was going. For Nate's sake. Then Springer didn't know what to tell Tobi that would make her happy. She seemed to be mad at him a lot lately. What could you do about it? The situation was what it was and she knew what he'd do, and that upset her.
She told him she understood why he should help Nate. And why she knew, just knew, he would go. What she didn't like is he wouldn't stop there. That he, being how he was, wouldn't stop at just asking around. Then she gave him a look, watching him. He nodded at her, which annoyed her, he could tell, her telling him, don't sit there looking at me trying to wait me out. Him saying he didn't know what she was talking about, even though he did. Her saying, I'm familiar with all your little tricks. I've seen your crap before.
He tried to tell her that Nate was upset and he was only going to try to get information to ease Nate's mind, but she wasn't having it.
"I know you, Cole. There's nothing you can do to help the situation. You'll involve yourself, start poking around, and the police will resent it. It'll make things worse. Also, both of us know you can't go there. There are people there that don't like you and want you dead. You can see that, can't you?"
"How about wishing me luck?"
She shook her head slowly, exasperated. She was giving him her cop look now. Pretty good at it, too. He reached up to touch her face and she leaned away from it.
"Cole, dammit, I'm not kidding. I know you think you can avoid them, but they see you and tell Cavanaugh and it'll start all over again."
"Maybe it's time that got settled."
She closed her eyes. "God."
"Well, I'd better get going. I'll call when I get there, tell you how it's going." That seemed to set her off, which was happening a lot anymore. It just worked out that he picked the wrong things to say and do, and he never knew what they were until he'd already said them.
"Don't bother calling, Cole. Just forget it."
"That's it?" He was thinking of things to say, believing anything he said wouldn't help. He started to shrug, realizing what a mistake that would be, so he didn't say anything and walked out. Closed the door.
John Prine would say, "If heartaches were commercials, we'd all be on TV."
When Springer got off the plane at Vegas the desert heat hit him like a hammer. Different than Aspen. Aspen was low-humidity, medium-cool days. Vegas was windy-hot and even the nights, in a town where the clock set no agendas, were scintillating. Waiting for him at the airport was Sanborn Meeks.
Sanborn Meeks was a professional gambler who ran a business called Sunrise Investigations--Let Us Shine Some Light on the Problem. The business had only one employee, Sanborn Meeks. Meeks was more like a sixties hippie in his Hawaiian shirts and his beard and sunglasses than a private investigator. More con man than detective. Once he was supposed to be looking into a case of infidelity for a Vegas man. Sure enough, the wife was stepping out. Meeks cut himself into the action, telling her, "C'mon, baby, share the wealth; otherwise I gotta pass on this information to your old man. I've seen your pre-nup and you don't want that. So why not see if we can help each other out."
Meeks greeted him. "Hey, Springs, man, what's going on? Wow, I can't believe you're here. Hey, let me get that bag for you." Springer handed Meeks the bag, told him not to open it, Meeks placing a hand to his heart, acting hurt. Springer asked, "You have the weapon, Sandy?"
Sanborn Meeks lowered his Oakley sunglasses with a finger, looked over the rim with raised eyes, saying, "Who takes care of you, babe? I got it. Sweet gun. Thirty-two Beretta. Clean, no history."
"Was hoping for something bigger. Thirty-two's okay for shooting cats."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch. It may not be a heavyweight, but if you got to shoot somebody more than seven times you need lessons. You're in Vegas. You won't be wearing anything you can hide some .40 caliber cannon or a .357 that would rip through an engine block. Lightweight's the way to go in this heat. The gun has to fit the climate, man. When I do a job, I do the job."
"What's it cost?"
"The no-haggle price, for you"--smiling now--"is only nine bills."
"But I really like to haggle, and I can pick up a new one, anywhere, for three."
"But there's the hassle of going around the gun shops, the waiting period, and then it has one of those registered numbers. This one's clean, no numbers, no way to trace it."
"What makes you think I'm going to shoot anybody?"
Meeks shrugged, "You're paying for peace of mind. If you do have to pop a cap, there's the comfort of knowing you can just throw it away and nobody knows it was yours."
"Except you, of course."
Sanborn Meeks nodded. Springer nodded back. Springer said, "Let me see your eyes again."
"Why," said Meeks, chuckling.
"Man, I don't do that shit when I'm working."
"Then take the sunglasses off. We're inside."
"They're $300 sunglasses. You wear them. You pay three bills, you want people to see 'em. Where'd you get that shirt anyway? Sears? Man, you dress like some bozo from Podunk, Missouri. Listen, you want to check out the action? I can get you into a card game at the Bellagio with some banker types who tip every card like they turned it up for you."
"I just want the weapon and the information I asked about."
"Information is expensive."
Springer looked at him. Sanborn Meeks said, "Five bills."
"I'll give you five for the Beretta. I need a car. Did you get me a car?"
"Five for the Beretta? And you think I'm the one doing chemicals. Listen at you. The fucking gun cost me five."
"You're the cut-rate king, Sandy. Let's see if I can reconstruct a more probable scenario. You give some crackhead a hundred bucks and a bottle of cheap wine telling him it's Napa Valley, or you got it in exchange for silence in one of your divorce cases. How am I doing so far?" Sanborn moving his head side to side, looking around the air terminal, his mouth pursed, looking disappointed. Sanborn Meeks said, "Man, you try to help somebody out . . ." Springer said, "You're going to act hurt now?" Sanborn saying, "I just can't get behind this lack of faith, man. I'm giving you my best effort here, and it's going, well, unappreciated."
Springer scratched the back of his head and stretched. "I'll give you the grand but that's it. And I need something bigger. A nine but maybe a .380 would work. Think you can take care of that without charging me double what it's worth?"
"Hey, I'm also charging for my silence. Maybe people want to know what you're doing here."
Springer looked at Sanborn, giving him the look, waiting him out.
"Okay, quit looking at me," Sanborn said, holding up a hand like he was deflecting something. "Look, I'm giving you my good-guy rate."
"And I'm offering my not-hold-Sanborn-off-the-balcony-by-his-ears final offer."
Holding his arms out now, plaintive. "Damn, Springs. Why you getting all cold about this? Always like that. Man, we're a team. I can help you out on this thing, you tell me what's going on."
"No. Just the weapon and the information."
Giving him the hurt look now. Springer thinking this is the kind of stuff he put up with for involving Meeks. Knowing Meeks liked to think of himself as an adventure guy rather than some hustler, but a nice guy for a con artist. Meeks said, "I'm licensed. You need my license. Keep you out of shit with the authorities."
Springer, looking around the terminal for the baggage claim, said, "Promise me you won't detect anything."
Meeks spreading his arms and raising his eyes like pleading with God.
Springer looked back at him and said, "Sandy, tell me, how is it you became a private investigator?"
"Man, it's me. I get to carry a gun and look into the dark side of people's lives. It's exciting, and dammit, I like it. Besides, a guy's gotta pay the rent. Sometimes Lady Luck starts...
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