Billionaire Games

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Tony Pergamo thinks nothing of getting his hands dirty as he kidnaps the daughter of a rival competitor. Despite his wealth, he soon discovers that his plan is set to backfire and no amount of money can get him out of a sticky situation.

 

I

 

 

Kyle Rogan had a job to do. He wanted to put the unpleasantness behind him, but he was always caught in the middle since his youth. He would have taken a better job somewhere else. Life on the street didn`t allow for many options. The money was good. It helped him through the hard times. Still, he wasn`t independent. That bothered him.

He was a man in the middle. He felt like he was a marionette and went where the strings forced him to go. Streetlife didn`t cut it with him. There was too much competition. Too many drugs. Too many street punks ready to leave a deep scar through his heart.

His job wasn't finished.

In the forest clearing, he faced the two youths. Both greenhorns out for the money. That was how he made his start. He was lucky. Few greenhorns ever survived into their thirties. They were naive. They didn`t know their first move might be their last. He could teach them a few things, but these were stubborn kids.

They thought they knew what it took to make an easy buck.

"Tell me again. What happened?"

"She escaped from the shed," Billy Carter replied. A youth of only seventeen, he shifted nervously on his feet. "We had to run her down. Wasn't anything we could do. If we let her alone, she'd squeal to the cops. We couldn't let that happen. I shot her," Billy shrugged his shoulders, trying to keep his face from demonstrating emotion.

“Did you check she was dead?”

Billy nodded stiffly.

Jerome stood stiffly beside Billy, his eyes scanning for a way out.

Kyle noticed his nervousness. Greenhorns, he thought. They couldn`t act convincingly enough.

`You`re a fucking liar, Billy. Tell me again." Kyle took a few steps forward. He glanced briefly at the elms in the clearing. "I want details."

“Not sure how she got out. But we spotted her running, so we chased her. Almost lost her. But I spotted her through the trees and fired. She went down.”

Kyle watched the revealing emotions on Jerome's. “You bury her? Show me where she is.”

Billy shifted nervously. “Well, no. Didn't think to bury her. Not likely to be found. A hundred yards from the nearest road.”

"It don't matter if it's a mile. When you've got a job to do, you do it. That's what I'm paying you boys for. Evidence is evidence. Or you forgot? The Koala Sands Campground is twenty miles from here. She'd be declared missing, and a search party would be out looking." Kyle grimaced. "You boys left a few loose ends. I don't like loose ends."

"We'll go back and do the job, sir," Jerome spoke with a tremble.

Kyle studied the pair before replying. “I'm paying you ten grand each. But you couldn't keep her locked up.

"As it stands, your story doesn't wash with me. It will make no difference. If she's dead, she can't talk. But she's not."

Jerome drew in an audible breath. "She's not?"

"You should know, Jerome," Kyle replied. "You were there. The girl's a valuable asset. I needed her alive. You knew she's ransom dough. Daniel Castellano would pay a hefty price to get her back. You weren't paying attention. She slipped through your fingers. You lost the ten grand I was going to pay you. You fucked up big time."

Billy paused. “I'm sorry that happened. We can make it up.”

“Billy, you're a liar. She's not dead. She's in a hospital taking surgery. What does that mean to you boys?” Kyle swept up a cloud of dust with his foot.

The pause was deafening. “You didn't pop her. You never caught her in time,” Kyle let the anger slip out. “She got stuck under the wheels of a speeding car. Now she's in surgery. From what I can tell, she might recover. That means she'll finger both of you. How's that?”

“Where is she now?” Jerome blubbered.

“Kelton General. It'll take some time before she comes too. Then...” Kyle shrugged.

"We gotta finish the job," Jerome whispered.

"Sounds like a good policy. But it won't do."

"We can make sure she doesn't wake up."

"Normally," Kyle nodded. "I'd agree. I'd expect you to pull her plugs. But you're both too green. You already botched up once, and you're likely to do it again. No. I can't trust you with that job. Paralax will have the place secure as the authorities scour this place for clues. You're dealing with the daughter of a CEO in Castellano. He's a big man. You'd be dead soon as you stepped through the automatic doors. I have to find a real professional, someone I can trust. It's not you boys."

“What'll we do?” Jerome asked.

"You'll do nothing but wait. I'm going to keep you locked up tight, so you can't get loose like you let Ursula.

"I need insurance. When my man does his job, then I'll let you go. See? You won't get any money until she's dead. See? Once the witness is out of the way, I'd suggest a quick exit from the country. I don't want you running to the cops, or, for that matter, in front of any speeding car. Though, if I were you, that wouldn't be a bad idea."

“Where will you be holding us?”

"You won't know, Jerome. You'll be wearing blinders, so you can't escape the holding cell. You'll be under guard. You'll have hamburgers and fries, but I can't provide caviar and champagne."

The noise of shuffling feet forced them to look behind them. A cloaked black man stood twenty feet away. He seemed not to notice them. "My man can handle ant situation. Your's is as unique as they come.”

"What's the shovel for?"

“A little digging.”

Jerome nodded. "Fine by me." Billy's shoulders sagged at the prospect of being incarcerated.

Kyle's smile was anything but. “Exactly,” Kyle's tone took on a note of steal. “Count yourself lucky.” He took a step closer.

"But if she's dead, you won't have a hostage."

"Aren't you the bright boy, Billy! Never thought you were capable of thinking that up. But it's a little too late. You're right. But there are other members of the family to take her place. It's just that I have to make new plans to satisfy Tony Pergamo. Yea. I've got a boss too. The next case is going to be more of a problem. If Daniel suspects something, he'll have his family under guard. New plans don't take 24 hours Too many complications."

“How long will we be in?”

"Hard to say. Kyle shrugged. "The sooner Ursula goes. The sooner you get out. But I warn you, Billy, the gay bars are out."

Billy stood, visibly surprised.

“Sources, Billy. Wouldn't want you squealing to your boyfriends at the bar.”

“I won't tell.”

Kyle took a step back and relieved his guard of the shovel he was holding.

“What's the shovel for?” Billy asked.

“To bury you.” Kyle withdrew a Walther from his back pocket and pressed the trigger.

Billy had no time to express any emotion as the shot tore through his chest.

Jerome stood frozen, his mouth open.

Kyle stopped at the feet of the prone Billy and looked down as he replaced his weapon into his waist holder. He glanced at Jerome. "Nervous?"

Jerome swallowed. "I'm next?"

Kyle smiled. "No. I just wanted to impress how serious this is. But you could be unless you do what I tell you. I need you as a hostage for good behavior. Have to be sure you ain't going to do something stupid like lie to me."

“I...I won't.”

“Excellent. Here,” Kyle passed the spade.

“To?”

"Bury your friend. Like I promised him. Night's still young, so I expect you to follow orders. When I get back, there should be a fresh patch on the ground. Don't think of running, neither. My chauffeur does more than just drive me around. Once you're done, he'll escort you blindfold to the holding pen."

Jerome nodded stiffly. “Then?” he ventured his next question.

“Then you get to go to Cancun or wherever you want to go. You can't stay in this country. You need to be somewhere safe where you won't be recognized.”

Jerome grimaced as he glanced at Billy's body.

"Relax. Once this is over, you'll have twenty grand to play with."

 

II

Kyle envied the big kahunas in their ivory towers. There wasn't much difference between him and the CEOs he dealt with regularly. They needed someone to do the dirty jobs, just as long as they couldn't be traced. He knew he was expendable. A hitman on the payroll was always ready to pop him once his usefulness expired.

As a naive youth, he never anticipated that the excesses of big corporations could engage in foul play. To them, it was just a game. With their deep pockets, they could get whatever they wanted with diplomatic immunity. They were looking out for themselves. What went on the streets below attracted no attention. They were always looking out for the big fish. They wanted it all. The trappings of billionaire wealth, prestige, and power. They enjoyed spending millions for a night at the Burg al Arab. They swam in giant fish tanks at Monaco and the rarified top floors of New York City condos. The biggest fish ruled the tank.

Not everything was rosy, however. As technology increased, so did the competition. It became necessary to make the right alliances and swing the big deals. If you didn't have enough, you had no pull. The stiffer the competition, the more necessary it was to pay the bribes, the cover-ups, and the double-dealings.

That wasn't the problem for men like Tony Pergamo. He did it all. The conflicts of interest, the kidnappings, and the hits when called upon. There were godfathers in respectable suits and bulletproof limos.

The elite made their own rules. One law applied to them. Another for the rest. Big business sometimes demanded they dispense with those who caused trouble. When bribes didn't work, more vigorous measures were necessary. There were cliques within cliques. Boys of the same mind banded together. That wasn't unusual, Kyle thought. The same laws ruled the streets.

Kyle had discovered that smiles and friendly talk were just the part of the makeup every rich man wore in the boardroom. They had their cocktail parties and caviar on their million-dollar yachts. They toasted one another with the sharpened claws of tigers. They drank the finest champagne and cognac that flowed through their fingers like water. High-class lawyers, judges and accountants made up a part of the scene. A tete-a-tete to discuss business for a few hours, then a week spent in the sunshine, surf, and bikini extracurricular activities with bikini blondes, snorkeling over the Great Barrier Reef.

It was all so respectable. But lately, Kyle had different thoughts.

He had worked his way up from the slums. He wasn't afraid of the dirty work. It was part of doing business. He learned to use a gun to enforce the territorial rules of the gang he worked for. That's when Joe Cockburn spotted his talents and decided to hire him for a job. Joe was impressed, but he was small fry to the millionaire class. He soon realized that life at the top wasn't as respectable as he thought. It was a matter of doing what was necessary, then have someone flush the guts into the sewer. He could demand his pay, and it was gladly granted. Kyle moved up to a better life. He never felt comfortable in a pinstripe, but it was a part of demonstrating his respectability. A street urchin would be too easily spotted on the seven seas.

Kyle scanned the pinstripe he was wearing. In the public washroom, he readjusted his silk tie. In the Ashland Towers, he felt out of place. But he had to belong. A dusty leather jacket and a pair of sneakers would attract too much attention to spies working for the competition.

He crossed the marbled lobby to the chrome elevators and punched the up button. Ashland Towers was the business home where Tony Pergamo made his important decisions. He would soon meet the man on the thirty-seventh floor, the private office of one of the city's wealthiest billionaires. Tony was likely searching his face by video as he marched toward the elevators. No one crossed the marbled foyer

without being recorded.

Kyle put on his best smile as the chrome doors slid open to reveal an interior of hammered copper walls and silver handrails. Kyle stepped in, making sure no one else could take the same elevator to the top.

The floor display panel showed thirty-six dead buttons. The secrets began as soon as he stepped inside.

With the doors closed, Kyle withdrew a unique key from his breast pocket, inserted it into the emergency port, twisted and quickly punched in a 2 and a seven on the panel.

It took less than a minute for the elevator to come to a halt. Tony Pergamo was waiting for him, centered in the ample carpeted entry space before his office. Kyle scanned the elaborate bas-relief grapevines and flower carvings of the eight pillars holding up the ornate gold-tone roof. The place would have made Donald Trump jealous.

"Glad to see you," Tony replied. "Been some time, hasn't it?"

“Not really,” Kyle replied. “Only a month by my reckoning.”

"So it has," Tony made an about-face."Don't forget to take your shoes off. I just had the whole carpet steam cleaned."

Kyle did so. He had lived long enough to know the man who paid his salary had his own foibles. He enjoyed the feel of the silk fibers of the floor. He followed Tony's glistening bald pate across the carpet. After the first forty feet of space, the edge of the rug ended at the lip of a large fish tank where koi swam leisurely. Tony's mahogany desk took the center of the fish tank so he could view the fish while contemplating business.

Tony steered him off the edge to the guest nook, surrounded by etched glass panels that reflected the koi fish he enjoyed watching at moments of reflection. “I'm concerned about your mishap.”

"Things aren't as bad as they appear," Kyle replied, plunking himself into a loveseat backed by red silk fibers depicting roses. Tony followed suit in a high-backed leather chair that resembled a throne seat.

“It's been a week. Ursula hasn't recovered.”

“It was a tough operation. She's not out of the woods just yet.” Kyle reassured. “You know me, Tony. I'm thorough. Don't leave loose ends, especially when they point in my direction. I hope I won't have to take action if she doesn't survive the ops. Or the recovery.”

“I agree with you. But this requires more precision. She's heavily guarded. I don't think you need to do that job. I know other people who can get in and out and leave no trace.”

Kyle paused to reflect. “Just as well, I guess. As you say, this is a real professional job. It's not quite my line of work.”

Tony nodded. "I built that underground bunker to hold her. It would have worked too, but she got out. Maybe Billy got the hots for her."

"I had the same thought myself. But Billy's too transgender, so that might not have been a problem. All the same, he paid for it."

"If it had worked as planned, you would have gotten a cool mil. I'd let you do the job. You're competent enough. But things can change quickly. I need time to plan my net move. Unfortunately, I might not have that time."

“I've never asked why you don't like Daniel. Why go through this trouble to get his daughter?”

“Personal reasons I won't discuss. He's stiffed me too many times. I want him to see he can't get away without learning a few lessons. Dan would have paid any price to get his daughter back. The plan failed. If she pulls through, she'll point fingers.”

"You won't be touched. I will." Kyle replied.

"You forget who built the bunker. Such a thing requires a good deal of money for its construction. That support doesn't come from a band of ruffians. I would be a suspect."

"Possibility." Kyle nodded. "I've made some changes to make the place harder to find."

"Good. But I'm uncomfortable. Dan's a suspicious guy. He knows you've been working for me, so he might get to you with a bribe for information."

"I've arranged a lengthy vacation in an undisclosed location, just in case," Kyle replied with a smile.

“Good. I would have suggested it.”

Kyle nodded. "Billy lied to me. So he had to go. I pay them to do a simple job to watch the girl, and she ran Billy can't argue now."

"Buried?"Tony rose and headed for the black veined marble bar. "A drink?"

“No thanks. I celebrate when I know a job is done.”

"Wise." Tony squeezed out the juice of a lemon and poured a shot glass of gin. "I like that. So what about Jerome? He's not dead?"

“Got him locked up for now. He'll stay that way until there's no witness.”

“Keep him on a tight leash. I don't want him alive.”

"Yeh," Kyle nodded. "He knows he'll stay where he's at. I'm thinking of using him for a backup. He might be useful, yet. If you want to take over the next op, he'll be expendable." For now, he's security. If he doesn't suspect anything, he won't know what hits him. I just told him if Ursula doesn't make it, he can head to Cancun or wherever h wants to go. I can find him no matter where he holes up."

"Cancun? That where he wants to go?"

Kyle nodded. “Cancun's a good spot to watch him. If I determine, he can meet an unfortunate accident.”

Tony sat back down and swished his tonic. “Problem solved.”

“And Ursula? Any plans?”

"I have to wait for security to ease off. She's still in bad shape. Borken arm, legs, and punctured lung She hit the ground hard. Might not remember anything if she comes to."

“It's unfortunate, you can't make yourself plain with Dan. I'm sure you'd like to see him squirm.”

"I'd enjoy seeing him squirm. I'm not sure. Maybe another hostage situation? He's got two fun-loving boys with their eyes on party girls. Irresponsible kids It wouldn't take much to pick them up from a street corner. Unfortunately, there's no way for Dan to know I'm behind it. That's unfortunate. He can suspect foul play as long as he doesn't get his nose into my affairs."

"A sizeable ransom, that would make," Kyle agreed.

Tony smiled wickedly.“Likely to take a year.”

"I can do whatever job you pay me for. You know that. Take care of Ursula for you."

"I'll take charge of her. You may need to disappear yourself. I got a guy working at Kelton. Good credentials, so nobody will suspect. All he has to do is cut off her life support and be out of these before anyone takes notice. No poison. Too conspicuous. He can play a pre-recorded tape so the nursing staff at the front desk will see fifteen minutes of pre-recorded life sign footage.on the monitors. He'll be gone before they discover she's no more."

“A good plan,” Kyle nodded. “I'm glad I'm working for you. You think of everything.”

"It's what's got me above the sharks. You have to know how to play the game, or you're toast.”

Kyle smiled at the implications.

“If you let Jerome go, keep on his tail. Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid.”

"Jerome's trying to play a dangerous game he doesn't know. A greenhorn. Few ever make it without scars. For now, fear will hold him back. He'd like to run if he could, but he knows me now. There's no place to hide.

“Eventually...”

"Eventually," Tony echoed the sentiment. "I'd feel safer if he's down for the count. He's your charge. You do what's best. If he fingers you, you might have to use your Walther on your own head."

 

III

 

Luke Coltrane pressed the auto-dialer of his cell phone and waited for the connection. From his thirty-third office, he could see the broad expanse of the city as it slowly sank into a sea of red as the sun sank over the horizon. The shadows of the tent city occupying Mainland Avenue crept across the pavement toward the high towers of big business. It was, he had to admit, not the best solution for those unfortunates who got caught between foreclosure and evictions. Not all of them were respectable citizens. The drug addicts preferred the state parks they used as dumping grounds for their broken syringes. Parks were meant for families to enjoy summer picnics, but refuse limited their enjoyment.

He couldn't solve the city's problems, but he did, on occasion, do his part to clean up the parks to make them safer. But it seemed that drug addiction became more prevalent as the economy tanked.

Luke wasn't sure the call would go through. He'd just heard the news. Daniel was likely busy at this hour, arranging the funeral for his daughter.

Surprisingly the call connected. “Hello?” The voice at the other end didn't sound enthusiastic.

“Dan? Luke here. I just heard the news. I'm sorry Ursula didn't make it. Is this a good time to talk?”

There was a pause. "Yea. The best team of surgeons couldn't keep her alive. Ursula was the light of my eye. She made it past the first surgery, but they say she met up with complications in recovery. No one knows for sure. They're doing further tests. It doesn't seem like foul play was involved. I've had some suspicion about her 48-hour disappearance."

“Natural causes, do you think?”

"No indications otherwise. The accident affected her heartbeat. Her recovery would take a year or more on life support. She never gained consciousness. 30% chance of survival."

"If only she had pulled through."

"She was a nature lover, but something happened during the 48 hours she went missing. If she was planning to do some wild camping, she would have left a message with the camp warden of her intention. That leaves me with a fishy taste."

Luke watched as the traffic thinned out across Mainland Avenue. Just an hour before, it was bumper-to-bumper. Sometimes he wondered if the average Joe wasn't better off than he was. A nine-to-five with a loving family sounded appealing. But he was locked behind the desk of a major insurance chain. "I've had the chance to make her acquaintance. She struck me as lively, independent, and intelligent. Always thought she would make a good asset for your company."

"She didn't care much for the corporate life. Working an office job wasn't for her. She liked the open spaces. Room to breathe. Take her camera and record all the places she's been."Spring, summer, autumn allowed her time to roam. She didn't like to cold of winter, but she was prepared to pick up skiing."

“So I've heard. Something of a caged tiger. Must have been hard to control.”

“She was, at that. She liked to discover nature. I respected her for that. If I had nothing better to do, I might even have joined her on some wilderness tours. But business is more my thing.”

"She was an adventurous type. I've heard?"

Enthusiastic for hiking, biking, camping. Even wanted to try her hand at mountain climbing. Scale the Matterhorn."

"I didn't know that!"

“I discouraged her from taking that route. It's appealing enough. But I don't like her without support at the other end of the world.”

Luke paused. “She's as ambitious as you. In a different way.”

“Kids develop skills of their own. I couldn't expect her to assume the duties of a CEO once I was gone.”

They grow favoring different things,” Luke replied.

"So many questions she won't answer now. She was running from something when she got mowed down by that car."

"A dirt trail. Who would be traveling that deeply through the woods? Hit and run. Didn't stop to lend her any assistance."

"It's well known as a path for drug smuggling," Dan confirmed. People take that as a place to avoid getting pulled over. They work without a license or insurance. Whoever mowed her down didn't stop."

“Ursula was registered at the campground?” Luke tried to subtly change the subject.

"She arrived at the Koala Sands camp as expected. They witnessed her pitching her tent and cooking up on her camp stove. The place makes for an ideal spot for biking, fishing, and hiking."

“She's skilled in wilderness survival?”

“Absolutely.”

“Dif they know who she was?”

"Ursula likes her anonymity. She doesn't broadcast her intentions. She doesn't want to be recognized as a billionaire's daughter, BUt she's there in the tabloids all the same. She's put up with social occasions as an evil necessity. Thousand plate dinners on a round table wasn't her thing.

"Understandable. She likes the mountains and rivers. Campfire life. Soon as she got there, she turned her eyes toward exploring."

"She went biking before she vanished?"

"Took to the deep woods the next day."

"She tell the management where she was headed.?"

"She did in a general sense. But it's easy to get lost when you're roughing it. The management suspected something was up when she never returned to her camp. It wasn't until the next day the camp warden phoned her missing."

"She uses a cell?"

"She seldom uses it. I've insisted she do it. I believe she did have it on her, but she never called me, nor the camp."

“That's suspicious,” Luke agreed.

"After 48 hours, she was spotted by the dirt road by some hikers. She had been hit a few hours before, so she didn't spend a night in the cold. But she was barely breathing when they picked her up. They knew she was running from something. Her heel marks were plain enough."

“Abduction?”

"I haven't ruled that out, Luke. She's not an unknown. Could be a kidnapping. Extortion. Several things. Easy to become a target when you're wealthy. "

“Jealousy runs deep, but most kidnappings are amateurish. Not well planned out. Seems to me this one is different. She could have been running from a bear or wolf. That's hard to tell.”

"There are bears and wolves in that area," Dan confirmed. "There aren't enough tracks on the hard pack to determine there being a chase from someone."

The rim of the sun sank over the horizon, the sky blood red. "We've grown in a different generation, Dan. Our moral codes are different. I see it in the eyes of the up-and-comers. They feel they're deserving of more wealth. You and I have had to struggle."

“I won't rest, Luke. I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I can only suspect what might have happened. No clues to follow, but I've put down some money for some independent research.”

“She disappears. So has the evidence of a camera and her bike.”

"Her bike was found leaning against a tree far from where she fell. No indications of a struggle. Camera? Who knows? I don't think she fell off a cliff.

"She was running. That's what I know. The tire treads indicate bald tires. An older model car. They're scouring the ground for clues. Nothing conclusive."

"It smells, though. Too many variables. Not enough clues. I hope you don't mind the intrusion, but I'd like to help you get to the bottom of this."

“You've been a brother to me.”

“You've done me a lot of favors. I hope I can do the same. I'll put my own people on the case.”

"She's a survivor, Luke. She has survival smarts. She didn't get lost. She knows to use the tools at her disposal."

"Eliminate the impossibilities. What's left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. We could use Sherlock Holme's deductive power."

“Your help is appreciated.”

"Have you set up the funeral?"

"Wake's at the Serenity Funeral Parlour. Starting tomorrow. She'll lie in state for twenty-four hours until the funeral at the church of St. Vincent de Paul."

“Let's hope, for Ursula's sake, we can solve what really happened.”

 

IV

 

A picture-perfect day for a funeral. A good breeze dampened the heat of the afternoon sun as a parade of limos lined up on the private blacktop of Restful Acres Cemetary, the exclusive resting place for the rich and powerful. Here, a plot was worth more than a middle-class home in suburbia. The deceased's estate would pay more for a marble representation, gargoyle, or a permanent mausoleum.

A spotless limen covered a long trestle table filled with canapes, cocktail wieners, and other fine finger foods. There was the spiked wine punch in a great bowl of crystal. The guests could avail themselves of the fare as they arrived as they exchanged words of sympathy with Daniel Castellano, who stood stiffly at attention at one end of the great table. Dressed in a black silk suit and sporting a black bowtie, he looked uncomfortable. This was one party he was reluctant to attend. Protocol demanded his presence even as he grieved for the death of his daughter. Ursula rested under the oaken cover of her coffin, nestled under the shade of a great oak. A few feet off lay the open plot where she would find a resting place. Daniel took no interest in the pickled herring, egg salad sandwiches, and the clam broth on the serving table within reach. Behind the length of the table stood a row of starch-suited waiters, ready to dish out bowls of vichyssoise.

It was, Tony reflected, more a party atmosphere once he paid his obeisance to Daniel. Once the funeral was done, the guests would sit down on a massive covered table to embark on a seven-course meal of fresh salad greens, duck, and Pacific salmon roe. The billionaire class had come, much more than Tony had thought existed. But they did come from out of state.

Tony Pergamo availed himself on a few choice canapes of smoked salmon on crackers as he made his way through the grounds, observing each guest's arrival. He had a particular taste for the delicate flavor of Montessor ice wine.

Luke Coltrane had arrived late, but there was an affinity between him and Daniel. He remained by Dan's side with whispered positive words of encouragement. In the past week, the strain of Ursula's death left some new crinkled lines across the old man's face.

Though he was at a funeral, Tony didn't entirely accept the ambiance. He made it a point to put on a passive face toward the man he had disliked for decades. He made a gradual approach as Dan stood stiffly sniffing the breeze.

“I'm sorry about your loss, Dan. She must have been a fine girl. I can't say I got to know here much.”

Daniel nodded stiffly. “She didn't like socializing much,” Dan replied. “I'm surprised to see you here. You do me honor.”

Tony nodded. “Despite our differences, on this occasion, we can put our animosities aside.”

“I agree.”

“If she could have pulled through. We might know more.”

“We would, at that.”

Tony reached out for a full glass of champagne and took a tentative sip. New arrivals demanded Daniel's attention. They soon separated, giving Tony a breather from his awkwardness. Tony wandered through the grounds with casual sips of champagne. The suspicious look from some of the guests was not lost to his view. He wasn't well-liked in a lot of circles. He felt no need for apologies. As long as they respected his position, he wasn't out to gain brownie points.

The guests drifted into their own chat groups. He wandered about the private islands listening closely to any bits of conversation that might be useful in some future business dealing.

Gregory Bobbits was the man who had mowed Ursula down. They had found him and impounded the car he used as he made his drug smuggling operation. There was a distinct mark where his fender had met her thighs and hips. Bobbits was a drug runner. That was plain. But he wasn't intent on doing harm as he took the dirt path through the wood. Most of his work was during the night. This time he was in a hurry for an important cash deal. He wasn't willing to wait for sundown to unload fifteen quad of cocaine. Until his fender met Ursula.

Kidnapping was not in Bobbits' mind. Ursula was running when they collided. He wasn't connected with anyone except the cartel he worked for.

Secretly, Tony expressed a sigh of relief when Ursula breathed her last. The plan was on the drawing board, but nothing had been implemented. That was one worry off his shoulders.

Tony peered at the digits of his diamond-encrusted watch. Everyone who was anyone had arrived with fifteen minutes for the start of the eulogy. The casket lay on its bier as guests viewed her, the picture of serenity. They filed past and took to writing encouraging notes in the family guestbook.

The star attraction lay still.

As he was about to chow down on a wheat thin with a sliver of smoked salmon, his phone trilled. The digits told him who was calling.

“What's up, Kyle. This better be important. I'm at a funeral.”

"I'm sorry to bother you, sir, but we need to touch bases."

“Not now!” Tony hissed into his phone.

"Of course!" Kyle replied assuredly. "I'll just leave a message quick. We need to meet sometime soon. Not for another month. I don't want to talk much now, but there's some important info you need to know. Don't want this conversation monitored."

"You think it is?"

"We're under observance. No proof, but I suspect Dan's digging for info. He might have me watched. Likely he's got me watched. He knows I've done some work for you in the past. He only suspects. I don't want to leave him any clues."

“Good thinking,” Tony remarked. “I don't want any connection to her.”

“I can cover my tracks.”

“Take it easy for now. I take no action for at least a year.”

“We have to delay our next Thursday meeting. I can't be seen in the foyer of the tower. The best security won't find all the spies.”

“It's canceled,” Tony agreed. “But we'll meet in an undisclosed location. We might get through this yet.”

“Stroke of luck she passed on.”

“A weight off my shoulders.”

“I'm thinking about meeting at Koala Point.”

“Koala Point? Not neutral territory! A hive for investigative activity. They're still searching for clues. Find a better location.”

"That's not what I meant, Tony. We need to wait until the case calms down. That'll take a minimum of a month, if not more. Once they're finished scouring the place, then we can meet."

“I don't like it.”

“'Course you don't. They haven't found Billy. I covered that track well enough. Their best team of dogs won't smell him out.”

“Six weeks, at the outset. Then we can meet.”

“Contact me through the safety channels. Then we can arrange it.”

“Have you planned any new strategy?”

“There's time enough. Once I've got something, I'll let you know.”

"Just don't come in a limo. Too conspicuous. Drive a rental, a modest one. You should know better than to use your own name."

“Skullduggery,” Tony sighed. “I'm not quite used to it. A man of my stature needs security.”

"I can cover that for you. You're my bread and butter, Tony. Just make your approach natural."

“Make the compound safe. No bugs or cams.”

“Sure. Then we talk.”

From the podium came the announcement for the guests to take their seats for the start of the service.

“Not what I'd do. But we need to take cautionary measures.”

"I'd like it if we could meet in your office. That's not possible. Mark six weeks is the plan. Watch for the best time to get in touch. We need the time to let this blow over".

The line went dead.

Tony snapped his cell closed and felt a strange sense of confidence. He was always careful to cover all his bases.

 

V

 

The sun was hot in the cab of the Fiat he had rented. Tony adjusted the air conditioner., but it did not supply him with the cooling breeze he was accustomed to in his limousine. Though he hadn't driven more than a half-hour, he already missed the soft buttery comfort of the limo. It had been too long since he last got behind the padded wheel of one of the dozen speed wagons he kept in his garage. He had to admit, it felt awkward driving a Fiat. In the early days, while he was clawing to the top, it was necessary. Still, he hadn't forgotten how to conduct an average car. The memories came back once he pulled the car into gear.

Tony glanced down at the soiled shirt and jeans he had chosen to take his journey. They were foreign. No silk ties and pristine dry-cleaned silver thread pinstripe. He was an ordinary schmuck out for a casual Sunday evening ride to the park.

The GPS was the only luxury he allowed. Koala Point was completely familiar off-road. The bunker was close to his destination, about a hundred yards from meeting Kyle. A remote location in the deep woods. It would have served well. He hadn't quite figured out how Ursula had escaped. Maybe she begged to take a pee in the woods, then made a run for it. Billy was the dope who could have allowed that. But he wasn't alive to give any further details.

He smiled. Six weeks had expired since his phone call with Kyle, who deemed it safe to meet. He had been monitoring the news. There was no further evidence to be found, and the forests were quiet once again. Bobbits was still in custody. He gave no new info under the grilling they gave him. Still, he was charged with drug smuggling, negligence, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident. Bobbits was guaranteed a stint at a labor camp, if not San Quentin.

The best-laid plans sometimes came with unsolvable hitches. He had to expect that. He had been too confident about his own goal. The Beaverton fiasco still rankled in his mind, though it had been over a decade ago. It could have been worse, but he knew who to pay off. Thankfully the matter was settled out of court. He learned a lot of lessons from that event. It set back his business by two years.

Learn from your mistakes, he mused as he rolled over the blacktop. He hungered for the life of the elite. It was an exhilarating experience. He belonged in the rarefied atmosphere where money flowed like water. It didn't feel off to make underhanded deals and offer a few bribes. The average working Joe never understood what went on behind the walls of the boardroom.

The highway ahead rolled on. Tony fought the desire to fall asleep. Soon enough, the exit to Koala Point would arrive. He didn't want to miss that. He was always punctual to any meeting. The exit would roll on for a couple of miles through a suburban district before blending into natural surroundings.

While he felt comfortable in the journey, he couldn't quite help glancing into his rearview mirror to see if he was followed. The traffic was thinning out, and all he saw were a few cars towing speedboats behind them. The skies above were clear of any chopper that might be observing his progress.

He jacked up the conditioner to feel a breeze wash across his face. Needed to relax.

The traffic thinned out considerably once he took the exit ramp toward Koala Point. Sunshine Acres had been recently developed, so there weren't many homes in this middle-class neighborhood. It wasn't long before the first stand of trees grew murky as the road cut through a graveled path

.

A dirt road appeared at the end where the last house stood with a sign announcing the campground just ahead. But he would skirt by it, traveling on the same path where Greg chose to make his drug-running operation.

Once he passed the last sign to the campground, the thickets increased, and the elms and oaks fought their way to claim the dirt roadway. Bear Lake glistened through the forest in the summer sun. The road wound through a landscape of small hills and valleys.

He passed the spot where Greg met Ursula. He recognized the location from the media footage. There was nothing to indicate that there existed another path that cut through the thicket. The low branches of an oak tree acted as camouflage as he turned down the secret passage.

He found a convenient spot hidden between the canopy of two oaks. They provided adequate shade from the sun's heat. If anyone was present, they wouldn't easily spot the Fiat.

Tony checked his watch. He had arrived ten minutes early, enough to scan the surroundings for any activity. As he waited, the only thing he saw was a deer. He lit a cigarette and took a leisurely smoke in the time remaining.

He exited, checking his memory for the directions Kyle had given him earlier. The only signs to watch for were naturally hidden.

The designated spot wasn't hard to find. It was a broad clearing of tall grasses and thorny brush. The ground was undisturbed free of recent traffic. Rocks dotted the clearing, a hard place for trees to take root.

He waited.

His wait was soon rewarded when he heard footsteps across the rocky ground.

"Tony? Sure you weren't seen?" Kyle stood behind him, almost invisible as he made his way through the sheltering branches of an oak.

“Idea location. I had no trouble finding it.”

Kyle smiled. He seemed nervous. "Necessary to take a few precautions, Tony. These days...."Always necessary to take a few precautions. Not easy to neet this way."

“I'd feel comfortable in my office, but...” Tony shrugged. “As long as we're private.”

“Make any new plans lately?”

Tony smiled at Kyle's direct approach."Still in the works. But I'm willing to pay you two mil."

“That depends on the job.”

"Of course," Tony said. "You might have to head down to Mexico. Damon's got himself a nice little condo in Acapulco. Got himself a sailing sloop to go sailing through the Gulf. Plans on spending a week that way. He'll stay at the Mexican Riviera hotel. That's where I figure he'll disappear. The local cartel is interested in the money I proposed. No connection to me. Going out sailing down to Acapulco next month for a holiday aboard the family yacht. Once he gets to land. I've paid the local cartel to take him for ransom. It should be clean."

“Sounds like a plan,” Kyle nodded.

“When you're dealing with drug people, nothing comes cheap.”

“How cheap are we talking about?”

"Ten mils."

“And you're paying me a measly two?”

“ I know. But I'm prepared to pay you more, as necessary. You don't need to do much. Just post the ransom.”

"Hefty price," Kyle whistled. That kind f money's peanuts for a man like you."

Tony smiled. "Just business," he replied. I'll wire you the two mils to your offshore account. I don't trust drug lords. That's why I have you."

“I'll make sure I don't hire on any idiots.”

“Good policy.”

Tony took the last puff of his cigarette and crushed it beneath his feet. "I hope we can carry on our friendly relationship. What are your plans for Jerome?"

“He's expendable. Not much use now.”

"He is," Tony shifted his weight to the other foot. So you won't let him go to Cancun?"

“Yes and no,” Kyle replied.

“Stop talking riddles, Kyle.”There's something I can't place on you. Your eyes are too shifty.”

“They are.”

The jab of a needle pierced his shoulder blades, accompanied by a spreading numbness.

"What?" He reached behind him and pulled out a dart. He stared at it for a moment.

Twenty feet behind him stood Luke Coltrane, a dart gun in his hand. “Afternoon, Tony.”

“What the hell's going on?”

"I'm disappointed in you. Luke relaxed his firing arm. "I never thought you would stoop so low as to kidnap Ursula. Business is business, but you went too far. That's so low. We've never been friends ourselves, but this," he waved the gun, "beats the cake. We all gotta make tough decisions, but murder isn't one of them. The billionaire club has its own code of ethics, and you stepped over them.

“I've watched your progress over the years. Some dealings were questionable. I let them go. But now you've gone too far. What were you thinking?”

Tony frowned, felt the numbness spread to his upper arm. “Who told you?”

Kyle stepped into Tony's field of vision.”

"Kyle here's been having second thoughts about working for you. I knew that, but he wasn't ready to reveal the truth. I pushed him a little. He wanted immunity before he told me everything. I didn't want to myself as he shot Billy. But I sweetened the pot.

“What a surprise when he told me the truth. I wouldn't have guessed it. You've been making your own rules these past years. Like the Beaverton mess?”

“How do you know about that?” Tony found it hard to get the words out.

"Lie I said. Kyle came clean about a lot of things. I owe Dan a couple of favors. I'm glad to oblige. I promised him after Ursula passed on."

“I didn't kill her.”

“No. But you were an accomplice. It was all your plan. The bunker. All of it.”

Tony breathed heavily. “We can cut a deal.”

“A deal?” Luke shrugged. “After what you've done, I can't trust you.”

The numbness that crept down his arms felt like fire coursing through his veins. “You're going to kill me?”

Luke reached into his suit pocket and withdrew another dar. "No," he said as he felt the weight of the gun.

“I trusted you, Kyle!” His body shook uncontrollably. “You told Daniel?”

"Actually, Daniel doesn't know yet. He will, soon enough," Luke replied. "We needed a confession from you, and that's done. If you notice, Kyle is wearing a special belt buckle with a camera embedded in it. Our conversation is being recorded as we speak. It's all being recorded at my home data center, ready to reveal your antics through social media. Soon enough, the world will see your picture. But before that happens, Dan will be the first to review the evidence."

Tony's face grew ashen. He felt his stomach heave. The heat of the sun increased his unease. "Damn you!"

"A trial's bound to generate no sympathy. The press will have a field day, and your every step will be monitored. You're too wild for your own good. I would relish seeing what the outcome will be. Who knows? Maybe you'll be a star and watch an actor portray you in a blockbuster? You'll be famous."

“That won't happen,” Tony croaked.

"You've given us a bad name." The dart struck Tony in the sternum. He hardly felt the jab."

"Ursula. That's strangely familiar. Did you happen to have a hand in her abduction too?"

“Ursula?”

Kyle took a Kleenex to wipe the jewel on his belt buckle.

Tony swayed, felt his vision narrowing.

“You'd have succeeded better if you avoided kidnapping. You plan for every eventuality. But you got to know the wrong people. You use them to do your dirty work as you hide beneath respectability.”

“You betrayed me.”

“You deserve it, Tony.”

The silence seemed overwhelming. “So now...I'm dead?”

“No. Not quite. The dart's meant to put you to sleep. We want Dan to find you. It's really up to him. He might call in the authorities, but he might take a different course. Keep things silent, but play with you as you did with his daughter. I won't blame him if he decides to bury you where no one can find you. Or watch your embarrassment in the courtroom. That'll be up to him.

"You'll sleep for a few hours while I edit the video for better reception. That might take an extra hour. I've already taken a photo of the bunker you built for Ursula. There's a couple of stakes to outline the space, so no one misses it this time around.

“You're guilty of far more than an abduction. Lucretia Allesandro? Remember her? A mysterious disappearance.

"Whatever Dan decides, there's plenty enough to put you behind bars for years to come. Consider your career over."

His legs felt rubbery, could not sustain his weight. He sank to his knees. “Kill me!”

“Who do you think we are, Tony? As bad as you? You may need to testify. If you should wake before Dan gets here, you won't have any place to hide. Your face will be instantly recognizable should you opt to board a plane. The Fiat won't be where you left it.

Tony could make no sense of where he was. On his knees, his world swirled, gyrated. A mass of darkness overwhelmed him as he fell. As he slipped away, he realized that he had no other choice but to plan for his own funeral.

 

 

 

End

 

 

 


Submitted: October 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Mario. All rights reserved.

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