Fifty

It wasn’t the Rosetta stone.

Sookie didn’t have to be well-versed in business law to be able to catch the gist of the document she was reading. It was a contract, a change of ownership to be exact. He was naming her the new owner of the Edgington Industries.

“I’m sorry. My John Hancock’s precious. Unless you tell me exactly what this is, I’m not signin’ anything,” she said, feigning confusion, flipping the folder shut and putting it on top of the table in front of her.

Russell leaned back in his chair behind the desk, propping his elbows on the thick armrest. “It’s a gift,” he answered lazily, clasping his fingers together. In every sense it could easily be perceived as a generous offering, but because it was coming from him, it could only be one thing: a trap.

She mirrored his stance, playing along as she drilled him with a penetrating squint. “Why?”

“Didn’t Adele teach you not to look at a gift horse in the mouth?”

Her stare tightened at the mention of her grandmother. “Not when the horse came with your name,” she replied tersely. “What’s the catch? There’s always a catch.”

“I’m broke,” he replied without missing a beat and Sookie gave him points for honesty. “William and Victor stole a large chunk from my repository. And after the hacking incident, which I assume you’ve already heard of, my assets had been drastically decimated.”

Sookie couldn’t help but laugh. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she tried to muffle the noise escaping from her lips. “So basically, what you’re giving me is crap. A house of cards – ready to collapse at the slightest push.”

Russell’s lips pressed into a taut line. Unlike Sookie, he couldn’t find anything hilarious with his current predicament. And the way the muscles in his jawline leaped and tensed against his skin, Sookie knew she was treading on very thin ice.

Her laughter tapered off. “I’m not signing it. Find yourself another patsy. I’m not gonna be your sacrificial lamb.”

Russell fixed his eyes on her, his lips twisting into a leer. “What gives you the impression that you have a choice?” His tone lilted with cockiness. “This is merely for formality. My lawyer is already processing the papers. Before the day is done, you’ll be the owner of this empire you so callously called ‘a piece of crap’. Or is it a house of cards?” He tilted his head to side, sneering.

Her teeth gnashed together. She bit back the bile rising up her throat as she forced herself to scoff. “You really despise me, don’t you? No matter what I do, I’ll never be good enough for you? Why don’t you just handcuff me right now and throw me in jail. That’s what you want, isn’t it? You love Bill so much that you’d rather throw your own flesh and blood under the bus than lose your precious William.” If there was ever a time to play the grandpa card, it would be now.

Russell eyes shifted, taken aback by the sudden poignancy in her tone. His brows furrowed before he looked away and reached for the sleek remote inside his drawer. He pointed the remote control to the fifty-inch plasma TV mounted on the wall behind Sookie.

A stomach-churning wail cut through the silence that hung in the air. Sookie twisted her head as she turned to the direction of the noise.

Her head swelled as she sucked in a breath. The gut-wrenching noise was coming from Bill, who was wriggling in a pained, slow motion. Like an earthworm after someone had poured salt all over its wounded body. His clothes were soiled, bloodied and shredded while he lay on his back on a wide stretch of black asphalt. His arms were stretched over his head, held together by thick welded steel chain snaking around his arms all the way to his wrists. Sookie couldn’t see where the chain led but if she were to take a guess, it might have been attached to a vehicle, recalling a cautionary tale Eric had told her about a certain Chariot ride.

“As you can see, Susannah, William is currently indisposed,” Russell stated before he pressed a button on the remote to turn off the monitor.

Sookie knew Bill was being held for questioning. Eric informed her in his coaster missive last night. For someone as clued-up as her, nothing and no one could have prepared her for the sight she just witnessed.

Russell watched her with guarded expression as her hands fell on the paperback resting on her lap. He stood up from his chair and made his way in front of her, prying the book from her quivering fingers. He scanned the front cover. “Houdini?” he read the title. “Why do you waste your time with this bullshit?”

The book wasn’t hers. It was Bill’s. Harry Houdini’s The Right Way Of Doing Wrong.

Even before Eric notified her of Bill’s demise, she already had a hunch that something was amiss when Bill, her perpetual shadow, never made it to her usual lunch. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw Palomino, Mickey and another one of Russell’s personal guards ransack Bill’s office like uncouth thieves – flipping over drawers and tossing out books and ledgers off the shelves the day Bill disappeared.

Palomino, the less brute and more polite of the Three Stooges, asked her to leave as soon as she arrived. Sookie knew better than to ask questions she didn’t want answers to as she turned to go. But as she was leaving Bill’s cluttered workplace, she caught a glimpse of a thin, red softbound book that was lying on the floor along with the hardbound business manuals. She recognized it from the last time she was in Bill’s office the night of Thalia’s carefully choreographed death. The reason it stood out to her was because it was the only book that wasn’t tucked in the wooden bookcase. It was on his table beside his laptop.

She asked Palomino if she could have it and the Mexican sentry, who seemed to be in a haste to get rid of her, agreed immediately as he tossed her the paperback.

Her brief sentiment earlier about Russell choosing Bill over her was all for show.

“Don’t kill him,” were the only words she could muster as she willed herself back into focus.

Russell cocked his brow as he dropped the book on the floor. Sookie bent down to retrieve it as casually as she could. “I have to say I am quite surprised. I thought after the finesse you showed with Thalia, you’d be the first to volunteer to end William’s pathetic life.”

She steeled her features. “No one deserves to die like that. Not even Bill.” She should know since she harbored a great amount of hatred toward her former neighbor. “And a wise man once told me, there is a fate far worse than death. From where I’m standing, Bill’s already there.”

Russell kept mum, sliding backin his upholstered chair. He seemed to be weighing in the sincerity on her face. After a while, he leaned forward, resting his palms on his desk. “William’s refusing to divulge where he kept my money. If you manage to get that information from him, I’ll let him live.”

Sookie bit her lower lip, contemplating whether to take the bait.

“Alright. But I won’t go down there. He was the one being punished. Not me,” she retorted after a pregnant pause. “Order your people to unchain him and give him medical attention. I don’t want him to pass out on me.”

Russell mouth twisted into a toothy grin – a smile so maniacal it almost made her shudder.


E/S

Russell stared at the customized stationery pressed between his thumb and his index finger. The paper had the color of blood embossed with golden wispy lines surrounding the delicately calligraphed Q at the middle of the page. The invitation was brimming with hubris. His eyes landed on the dried wax that was used to seal the red envelope. It was black – pressed with The North’s logo – as dark as the intent of the man who sent it.

The missive was delivered to Russell with a single purpose: To taunt him.

He flipped the paper over to read the handwritten message on the back.

It takes three to form a trinity. How many do you have?”

Cursing under his breath he tossed the crimson paper on top of the growing stack of papers on his desk. Northman must have found out about his latest acquisition in Macau. When he bought the Luciano chip from a Chinese businessman, whose name was too trivial to remember.

Lucky Luciano’s platinum chip had been burning a hole inside his personal vault at the MGM since he came back to Las Vegas. He could barely look at it now. He was too frustrated to even touch it. It was nothing compared to what Northman held in his palm. Even without the Bugsy, Capone’s chip was enough to raise Godric’s bastard to the top of the food chain. It was a piece of history that could alter someone’s fate in a town ruled by old money and old power.

Russell picked up the cordless phone off its cradle and pressed a button. “Buy me a seat in Northman’s tournament at the Regent tonight. I also want the names of the croupiers Northman hired for the soft opening. And get Sophie Anne Leclerq on the phone. She’s in town for the fight and she’s staying at the Four Seasons,” he barked at his assistant, Tanya.

As he waited for his secretary to call back, Russell couldn’t help but feel restless because right now he was on the brink of a colossal breakdown. The only thing missing was that spectacular crash he knew the fucking bastard was waiting for.

No. He would never give him the satisfaction.

His phone rang and he lifted it to his ear. “Is it done?”

“It is, Mr. Edgington. But Miss Ravenscroft had a specific requirement,” Tanya replied through the next line.

Peachy. “What is it?”

“That you bring Charles Luciano with you tonight,” Tanya sounded apprehensive, baffled even.

Of-fucking-course. “And what of Sophie Anne?”

“She’s on the other line.”

Russell disconnected the line with his secretary before he pressed another button and listened for the ginger heiress’s trilling voice to peal from the receiver.

Eric Northman might have the Scarface and the Bugsy but Russell still had something in his arsenal that Northman was powerless against.


E/S

She hated heels. Six-inch heels to be exact. How women – and by women, she meant Pam – could walk effortlessly in these torturous gear was beyond her.

But if Superman could wear red speedo under blue unitard, Sookie thought she could suffer a few hours in her own costume, which consisted of a black strapless cocktail dress and a pair of six-inch Manolos.

She darted a glance at her companion. Russell had been awfully quiet during their whole ride to the MGM. She didn’t like quiet Russell. Because it meant he was having another one of his brainstorms, one that could bring a hell of a storm for her.

“When will I get to see Bill?” she asked, breaking the impasse as they tread the empty corridor of the Grand’s 35th floor, with Palomino and Mickey trailing them two steps behind. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Russell pulled his black crocodile hide checkbook wallet from his left breast pocket and plucked a gold-plated keycard with nothing but a black horizontal line at the back. They reached the corner suite and he stopped in front of the white double doors. He inserted his card into the golden slot and with a soft tut-tut the door unlocked.

“William still lives,” he answered before he turned the shiny handle and pushed the door with his shoulder, giving her a wide berth inside the suite. “There was just a slight complication that needed to be dealt with before you’ll be able to see him. You see, Mickey here got a little carried away with William after we spoke. Rest assured, Palomino will bring you to him as soon as possible.”

Sookie stepped inside, brushing past the old man, who was uncharacteristically chivalrous as he held the door for her. Whatever was inside the enormous room, it was for her.

Her eyes landed on the man standing near the floor-to-ceiling window, which was overlooking the Strip, looking sharp in a tailored black and white tuxedo.

“Jason!”

To her surprise, Jason didn’t look as happy to see her as his eyes started picking her apart, glaring in their general direction. “Jase?” she asked as she started closing in on her unusually cold sibling.

Jason, hands tucked in his pockets, leered. It wasn’t something she was accustomed to. Jason would grin, smile, giggle at times, even smirk teasingly, but he would never ever leer. Not to her, not to anyone. Her sweet, innocent brother was breaking and along the fault line she could see his pain mirroring her own.

“Look at you. All dolled up for granddaddy,” he drawled acerbically.

The clicking of the lock as the door closed behind her barely registered as she took in the sarcasm in Jason’s tone.

Her brows drew closer, offering him nothing but silence.

“He told me what you did with that pit boss at the Mandalay.” Jason shook his head lightly, a hard edge on his eyes. “How can you sleep at night, Sook? How’re you gonna explain yourself to Gran?”

“I did it for you,” she spat with trembling voice before she lowered her gaze to the floor. “I did it for Michele. He let her go, didn’t he? She’s with her family now.”

Jason squinted, “I am her family!” he rammed his thumb on his chest. Grabbing the back of his neck with both hands he turned his back to her. His shoulders moved up and down as he took ragged breaths.

Sookie moved in front of him, clamping her hands on his upper arms. “Jase…” she pleaded with a single word.

A look, too fleeting to notice, flickered between the siblings before he wrestled out of her grasp, taking half a step backward. “Don’t you fucking touch me!” He whirled around to face Russell, who was sitting languidly on the cream plush sofa, legs crossed.

You did this!” Jason jabbed a finger at Russell, who was casually gliding his palm across his silk tie, seemingly oblivious to the sibling drama unfolding right in front of him. “You turned her into you!”

Russell rolled his eyes as he peeled himself off the couch and sauntered toward the TV rack, where an opened bottle of Perignon was chilling inside a pewter champagne bucket. He poured himself a glass of the sparkling wine and took a lazy sip.

“Oh, yawn. Spare me the drama,” Russell drawled, putting the glass back beside the sweating bucket. “I did your sister a favor. She has always been a walking pistol. I just gave her the target.”

Russell didn’t see Jason coming as the male Stackhouse lunged at him and tackled him to the carpeted floor.

Sookie screamed, “Jason!” before she darted to the door and pulled it open to let Russell’s guards in.

Russell’s arms flew over his face, shielding himself as Jason clawed at him. Palomino and Mickey came charging in. The hulking Mexican pried Jason off the disheveled mogul, while the shorter but stockier Mickey, reached for Russell.

Sookie saw Palomino reach for a taser tucked under his belt. She dashed toward Palomino and Jason, and gave the sentry’s arm a sharp jerk, making him drop the weapon to the ground. She yanked at the collar of Palomino’s white buttoned-down shirt from behind. The hulking Mexican made a hacking sound as his collar tightened like a noose around his neck, crushing his Adam’s apple. He lost his grip on Jason and the older Stackhouse didn’t waste a second as he sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Sookie raced to the door, pressing her body hard against the heavy white wood. “Let him go!” she bellowed, pushing her palms at Palomino’s chest when he tried to shove her out of the way. “Leave him alone!”

Russell, who seemed to regain his poise, stomped toward Sookie with Mickey right behind him. “Get out of the way Susannah,” he ordered in an undertone. He threaded his fingers through his black hair, sweeping it back to his receding hairline.

“This is your fault. You want to turn him against me,” she spat, blinking back tears that were threatening to spill.

Russell drilled her with a look.

“Call surveillance. Order an APB on Jason. Bring him to the holding cell, I’ll deal with him tomorrow,” he commanded his guards in an even tone. “You’re coming with me,” he told Sookie, curling his fingers around her wrist.

Sookie knew playtime was over.


E/S

Jason ran out of the suite and dashed to the emergency exit at the opposite end of the hallway.

Thirty-four.’

Thirty-three.’

Thirty-two,’ he counted silently as he bounded two steps at a time.

He shoved the double heavy metal doors open when he reached the landing of the thirtieth floor.

Three-zero-one-one.’ His head swiveled from left to right as he scanned the door numbers.

He was nearing door 3008 when he felt a strong, firm hand on his bicep. Jason snapped his head to the side and he instantly blanched when he saw Palomino glaring down at him.

Jason would have screamed if it wasn’t for Palomino’s hand that clapped over his mouth as the guard dragged him backward and hauled him into one of the rooms.

The door shut behind Jason with a thud as Palomino slammed him against the wall. Jason flailed his arms to wriggle out of his grasp but his strength was no match against the Mexican guard. To his utter shock, Palomino put a finger over his mouth, as his other hand kept him in place. “I’m gonna take my hand off you now. Don’t. Scream.”

Jason’s eyes shifted, before he nodded yes. “You’re workin’ for Eric!?” he blurted when Palomino took his palm off his mouth. “But you almost tased me!”

“Almost,” Palomino stressed. “Do you really think your sister will let me in if she knew I was gonna hurt you?”

Palomino, in a few words, relayed to Jason that he wasn’t actually a part of Eric’s original Mandalay team. But when he discovered Thalia’s cover was blown, he knew he had to pick a side. It seemed that while Thalia was working the Mandalay, she was also worming her way into the Mexican guard’s personal life. Thalia and Palomino had been seeing each other for over a year now. Apparently, some things were still sacred in Vegas.

Palomino ended his summation by channeling Elvis. “He can’t buy me love.” And Jason disguised his wince with an impish grin from Palomino’s mushy tale.

Jason turned away from Palomino as his eyes roamed the rest of the suite. It had the same decoration as the suite he just evacuated on the 35th floor. Same dark brown carpet with overlapping swirls’ pattern. Same cream-colored sofa set. Same mini bar beside the TV rack. Same king size bed at the other end of the room and same Eric Northman waltzing toward him.

Wait, what?

Jason blinked rapidly as he zoomed in on the six-foot-four blonde male in a tuxedo, who just stepped out of the ensuite bathroom. If Jason wasn’t so disoriented, he would have thought it really was Eric Northman.

“What the fuck?” Jason gasped.

“Hello, Jason,” Eric Northman’s doppelganger greeted. His voice was different. Deeper compared to Eric’s lilting tone.

By god, he looked exactly like Eric Northman. He even had Eric’s pompous swagger. But as tall and blondie got closer, Jason began picking his dissimilarities to Eric. His nose was pointier, his lips were fuller and his eyes were darker.

Before Jason could utter a response, two muffled tut-tut sounded before the door swung open, revealing the real Eric Northman himself.

Eric gave his doppelganger a slow nod and that was all the communication they needed before Eric Junior waltzed out of the door, leaving Jason gaping after them. He must have looked like a total dumbass as he pointed to the door then back to Eric.

“He’ll be me while I deal with you. He’ll take my place at the bar until the fight,” Eric answered his unspoken query. “Russell had men tailing me all day. I had to do something to throw them off.”

If there was one thing – aside from casinos—that Sin City had no scarcity of, it was the sheer number of impersonators for Vegas icons. And there was no better icon for a womanizing tycoon than Eric Northman.

“Well, he was a dead ringer for you,” Jason agreed, scratching the back of his neck.

Eric shrugged. “He’ll do. Pam actually wanted to hire some Swedish punk as my stand-in.”

“You should’ve gotten the Swede actor,” a lissome redhead in a short moss green spaghetti strap dress chimed in as she sauntered out of the adjacent bath like an apparition.

Jason’s lips parted as he gave the redhead a once over.

“The Swede doesn’t look like me. And if you ever mention that to Sookie, you’re fired,” Eric snapped at the redhead before he held out his hand to Jason. “Did you get it?”

Jason pressed his gaping lips together. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah. Here.” Reaching under his blazer, he pried a checkbook wallet from the waistband of his pants and gave it to Eric. “You’re right. It’s in his left breast pocket.”

“Fantastic.” Eric grinned, flipping the wallet open. He fished for the gold keycard from the top slot and tossed it to Palomino. Palomino caught the card with ease as he crouched beside the sofa while pressing his hand on the side of his head where a miniscule headset was attached to his ear. “I had my doubts. But it seems you are your sister’s brother.”

Picking Russell’s wallet was part of the plan. When he received a call from Russell last night, informing him that he would be going to the Grand for the Pacqiuao-Marquez boxing match, he sent an exigent message to Eric by calling housekeeping and asking for extra shower foam. That was their assigned code for when he was going to be transferred to another location.

Jason waited for an hour before he ordered his daily porn. Girl-on-girl, of course. As expected a message appeared halfway through the film, just when the leading ladies started getting naked much to Jason’s dismay. Why couldn’t Eric send his message during the boring parts, Jason thought begrudgingly as he started jotting down notes on the pad of his palm.

Left exit. Five floors down. 3011.’

He memorized the data before he washed his hand. The mission was pretty straightforward, he would orchestrate a commotion as he tried to swipe Russell’s wallet from his inner breast pocket. Sookie would create a diversion as he made a run for room 3011, where someone working for Eric would be waiting for him.

Procuring the wallet was optional, Eric had stressed. The main goal was to get him out of the MGM. But Jason knew it was time for him to step up. He stayed up all night formulating a perfect plan. The opportunity presented itself when Russell called him early that morning and told him about the deal Sookie struck with him to let Michele go. He knew about the pit boss and the scheme to fake her death in exchange for Michele’s release. Eric had informed him when he asked about his wife.

And Jason had never been so grateful his sister was such a good liar.

Jason’s eyes flitted from Eric to the redhead he called Clove.

Clove, which he later found out was short for Clovache, darted to the bed and grabbed the black garment bag that was sprawled on top of it before she made her way back to Jason and Eric in front of the TV rack.

Jason jerked his head when the redhead with a pair of piercing gray eyes gave him the garment bag before she swept his hair up and started flicking a small make-up brush along his eyebrows. “Hey! What the hell?”

“Stop fussing. I promise no blush-on,” she said with a wink. She had a thick foreign accent that Jason couldn’t put his finger on. Mediterranean, perhaps? Hell if he knew. “Now, take off your clothes.” She unzipped the bag Jason was holding up.

“In front of you?” Jason asked, bewildered but amused at the same time. “Won’t you at least buy me dinner first?” He couldn’t help it, flirting was part of his nature. Like blinking and breathing.

“Jason, stop fucking around and start moving,” Eric said in a stern voice before the Viking went over to Palomino’s side. The Mexican sentry was typing methodically on the laptop that was perched on top of the round glass center table in front of the sofa. Jason saw Palomino swipe the gold keycard across a device that resembled a creditcard reader.

Jason unbuttoned his black blazer and shrugged it off while peeling his leather shoes off with his other foot.

“Pants off,” the redhead instructed again as she took the garment bag from Jason.

“Say please,” Jason cooed with a playful smirk. He always liked aggressive women. And technically he wasn’t cheating. He promised Michele he wouldn’t sleep with anyone else. There was no rule against flirting.

“I’m gay,” was her succinct reply with a roll of her eyes. Those two syllables were enough to quell Jason’s philandering urges as he slipped out of his black tailored pants and into the dark charcoal pair she gave him.

“Focus, Jason,” Eric growled as he strode toward Jason. “Sookie can only buy you so much time before every floor gets swarmed with guards looking for you.”

“Right. Right,” Jason nodded slightly as zipped his fly. The redhead’s methodical fingers started pinning a fake moustache over his lips and he waited for her to finish before he turned to Eric again. “Is she gonna be okay back there?”

There was strained pause as a dark shadow passed over Eric’s composed face. “She will be.”

Eric didn’t sound so convincing but if anyone could keep Sookie safe it would be the man with the plan.

“Listen carefully and don’t interrupt,” Eric directed Jason’s attention back to him as Clove helped Jason put on a light gray dress shirt. “Sam will be able to give you a clear path for five minutes. He can only piggyback the surveillance for a short time to avoid detection. You have to be out of here and into the first elevator to your right before the time expires. The elevator will be waiting for you. Follow Clove into the casino floor as you skirt around the cameras. Stick to her side, she knows all the Choke Points. You must avoid Choke Points at all times because those are the parts of the casino where they run facial recognition.”

Jason managed to bob his head before Clove slapped the underside of chin with the back of her hand, urging him to look up as she flipped his collar upward to wrap a blue pinstripe tie around his neck.

“When you get to the east wing, that’s when you part ways with her. She will go into the high stakes room in the west wing. Do not follow her. You stay at the east where you’ll see the slot machines’ area. The entire section will be cordoned off. Stay away from that zone. They’ll be moving the machines out of the floor so that section will be monitored closely.”

Jason looked down at his feet when Clove patted his shin with her foot. A number of inappropriate remarks swirled inside his head as the gorgeous redhead kneeled in front of him to slip a pair of brown suede shoes for him to put on. But he bit them all back afraid that Eric might lose his patience with him.

“Go to the baccarat table farthest from the slot machines in the east. Make sure you’re in a smoking section. Sit on the right side of the dealer.” Eric walked to the mini bar and opened the top drawer where he took out a pack of Marlboro Red and a matchbook with the MGM logo on it. He marched back to Jason and shoved the pack of cigarettes into Jason’s pocket. “Light up a cigarette and keep your head down. Wait for the other players to place their bets before you make your own. Bet only the minimum. You cannot be the gunner. They pay close attention to gunners for card mucking. Do you even know what a gunner is?”

Jason fought the urge to roll his eyes. Of course he knew what a gunner was. It was the player with the highest bet at the table, who would be given the chance to squeeze to cards.

“Don’t be a gunner. Sure,” Jason replied, swallowing the retort he wanted to sling at Eric. “Why do I need to smoke?”

Eric raised his right arm and checked his wristwatch. “It’ll be your shield from the eye in the sky. Sam cannot blind them – especially tonight with all the whales in the house – so you have to work around the black domes.”

Eye in the sky was the term used by the casino’s surveillance team for their roving cameras inside the black domes.

The redhead poured a white foamy substance in her palm before she dumped it on Jason’s head. Her fingers slathered the hair product (or what Jason hoped was a hair product rather than some whipped cream she found in the fridge) all over his head. Then she walked back to the bed to get a short black wig with streaks of gray strands. He didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out that the wig was for him before she clamped it on his sticky hair without asking for permission. Jason would have been put out by the imposition if she didn’t shoot him a look that seemed to say: Don’t be a girl.

Out of his periphery Jason spied Palomino straightening up while inserting the gold keycard back into the wallet. He slipped Russell’s wallet into his back pocket before he advanced toward Eric.

“Russell is on his way to the Arena,” Palomino said, clipping his headset back on. “I need to return this before he requests for a new card.”

“You’re givin’ him back the wallet?” No matter how hard Jason tried to keep up, he always seemed to be missing something.

“We don’t need the actual card,” Eric replied in a clinical tone. “We only need to have a clone of the card. Russell won’t have time to change the locks now so as long as he thinks Palomino foiled your plan to steal it, we’re still good.”

“I told you; I don’t need a key to open his vault,” Clove interjected with a healthy dash of smugness in her tone.

Eric’s lips tugged at the corner. “I know you don’t,” he crooned patronizingly. His sneer dissolved as quickly as it appeared as his expression hardened. “But I want it done my way. As long as Sookie’s with him, I don’t want to do anything that will put her in any more danger. Are we clear?”

Jason gulped as he bit his lower lip, eyeing Clove who seemed to tense up under Eric’s withering glare.

Eric turned to Jason. “Put on your shoes. You need to leave. The fight’ll start in half an hour.”

“Why can’t I just wait here until the fight starts before I make a run for it?”

Eric locked his gaze with Jason. It was Jason’s turn to shrink. “There are at least two dozen uniformed guards waiting for you to set foot outside this hotel. It doesn’t matter how fast you think you can run, you won’t be able to outrun them all.”

Eric glanced at his wristwatch again. “And you can’t hide here. Didn’t you hear me when I told you every room, every hallway will be searched after what you did to Russell. That’s why you have to hide in plain sight. The only room in this hotel that the guards cannot totally manhandle is the casino floor. Russell cannot afford to lose his whales tonight. The guards are under tight orders not to spook the gamblers. Stay in the casino until Jake comes in to get you.”

Jason was tempted to argue but from the look on Eric’s face, he knew Eric had already considered every viable options and this was Jason’s best chance to escape.

He slipped his foot in one of the suede shoes and his brows knotted when he felt something round and hard rubbing against his sole.

“There’s something in here.” Jason bent down to get whatever was inside his footwear when Eric caught his arm.

“Keep it there. It’s a marble,” Eric said hurriedly.

“Why is there a marble in my shoe? It’ll make me wobble the whole night, aside from the fact that it’ll hurt like hell,” Jason whined.

Eric threw his head back in frustration with a suppressed grunt. “Are you sure you’re not adopted?”

Jason squinted his eyes at him. “I can do without the sarcasm, y’know,” he said dryly. “Don’t make me play my Sookie card, blondie.”

“This is your Sookie card, genius. I promised your sister I’ll get you out of here in one piece,” Eric retorted with a matching glower.

“Just explain the damn marble,” Jason huffed, hooking one arm inside the charcoal blazer that Clove was holding out for him.

“It’s a spy trick,” Eric answered with a sigh. “They will be looking for a young Caucasian male with blonde hair. With your disguise, you’ll be a middle-aged man with dark hair and a limp. Disguising can only change your look. Limping can turn you into a whole new person. Haven’t you watched The Usual Suspects? Next time, instead of ordering porn, why don’t you watch some classics for a change?”

Jason pursed his lips. Damn it, this man was good. Not good good. But scary good.

“Now make yourself useful and punch Palomino in the face,” Eric said casually, as though he was reciting a grocery item.

“What!?” Jason exclaimed as he gawped at Eric then at Palomino, who was looking at him with a blank expression.

“He’ll be returning the wallet back to Russell. You can’t expect that suspicious fucktard to believe Palomino lost you without a struggle,” Eric explained with another exasperated huff.

“C’mon. Give it a go. I promise I won’t hit you back,” Palomino teased, drooping a little so his face would be levelled with Jason’s.

“I’m sorry, man,” Jason mumbled before he gave the Mexican guard a shovel hook to the right cheek.

Palomino groaned, cupping the side of his face where Jason’s fist made the connection.

“Shit! Shit! Are you alright?” Jason stretched his arm to Palomino, bending sideway to assess the damage he had inflicted on the guard.

The sound of Eric and Palomino’s grating chuckles pulled him out of his miserable state.

“The fuck!” Jason screeched, indignant.

“Don’t sweat it, brother,” Palomino said in between chortles, while tapping Jason’s back. “You punch like a girl.”

Jason’s nostrils flared. He was about to lash out when Clove took him by the wrist and steered him toward the door.

Eric, whose irritating laughter tapered off, gave Clove a terse nod. “Make the call.”

Without a word, Clove pulled a white iPhone out of her purse and pressed a single button. “Moses is on the move. Blind the eye on the thirtieth in 20 seconds.”

“Wait, Eric. Where are you goin’?” Jason asked as he twisted toward the Viking, while Clove had her eyes glued on the screen of her phone, waiting for the twenty-second timer to run out.

“I have a date with your sister.” Eric flashed him a lopsided smirk that held so many promises.


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