Fifty-one

There was no magic trick. No cryptic signals. Only an illusion, a perfectly choreographed deception.

Pushing his black statement glasses up his nose, Eric directed his attention to the sixth row directly behind the ring, where he caught sight of Pam and Roman with a man in a tailored tuxedo between them. The man with short blonde hair, who was covering the side of his face with his hand, was worth every penny Pam paid him to stand in as a double. From where Eric was sitting, Mr. Tuxhole could easily be mistaken as him.

Fucking brilliant.

He would have been more pleased if he didn’t see Sookie give Mr. Tuxhole a lingering look when she entered the Arena with Russell, Sophie Anne and Andre.

Turn the fuck around. I’m right here.’ She should have known better than to eye fuck someone else.

He took a breath before he lowered his head and trained his gaze four rows below him where Russell had taken his post with the Leclerqs. Eric couldn’t help but smirk when he spied Russell turning his head to the direction of Pam and Roman.

The fucker had no idea the man he wanted to spy on had been spying on him the whole time.

Eric leaned back in his chair and fixed his eyes back to the ring. He might be incognito for now, but that didn’t mean he could fling caution in the wind. If he wanted to blend in, he had to act the part.

Propping his elbow on the armrest, he cupped his chin and sighed.

He wasn’t really a fan of combat sports. Eric always thought that there was something extremely disturbing with the ‘art’ of boxing. For one, he didn’t consider it as an art form. He recalled a quote from a Wayne Kelly book called Irish, which summed up how he perceived the sport.

Boxers, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers.’ Thank you very much, Wayne Kelly.

To say that he wasn’t excited to see two grown-ass men, with no beef against each other, step into the ring and swing at each other, would be a colossal understatement. He was already bored before the first jab flew. But the fight was a necessity. It was foreplay.

His feet tapped impatiently against the floor while he readjusted his glasses. It was a conscious effort to keep still and watch when he knew the real match was happening outside the ring. He counted silently before he zeroed in on her as subtly as he could. If boxing was a prizefight, then he had a clear view of his prize.

Look up, Sookie,’ he thought, wishing for once they were a couple of telepaths.

Sitting like a stiff doll beside the well-dressed devil was his angel. She was nothing short of magnificent in her black fuckable dress. He couldn’t help but scowl. (He made a mental note to rebuke her for wearing something so damned provocative later.) She let her hair cascading down her shoulder, tickling the creamy skin of her back. His fingers twitched, itching to sweep her long golden locks so he could plant kisses on her neck.

He gently shifted in his seat, gnashing his teeth as he swallowed hard. ‘Dammit, Northman! Take the creep meter down a notch, will you?’

The bell dinged for the third time, signaling the start of round three.

He forced himself to focus on the spectacle in the middle of the room. Another sigh puffed out of his thin lips. The Mexican fighter was the clear underdog. And from the way Marquez was swaying from side to side, even a buffoon could predict he was a goner. He glimpsed at his wristwatch, 9:05 pm.

If all went to plan, Clovache would be halfway to the eighth floor by now, en route to Russell’s private vault. Not the casino safe, where the employees stored the chips and the night’s turnover. The vault on the eighth floor was more personal.

Weeks of surveillance in the Grand led them to Russell’s secret stash, where he kept most of his skim money from the casino, along with his offshore account bankbooks and a number of fake documentations. Everything he would need in case he had to go on a lam. Russell evidently had enough resources to keep his empire solvent. But the selfish prick would rather let his granddaughter go to jail than use his money to avoid bankruptcy.

Fucking bastard.

Every night since Russell came back from Macau, he would sneak alone into room 808 – the only room in the MGM that was never available for guests.

After the managers from both the Mandalay and the MGM logged in the tables’ revenue, Russell would dismiss his guards then order the control center to cut off the eye in the sky on the eighth to tenth floor for half an hour. He would take the service lift to the tenth floor and use the stairwell to go down to the eighth. He would be in and out of room 808 in no more than twenty minutes. Whatever was inside that room, Russell didn’t want anyone else to find out.

Their suspicion was confirmed when Eric asked one of his moles, disguised as a housekeeper, to try to break into 808. Alas, the employee’s cardkey was rejected. It seemed that the only one who had access to the room was Russell himself. That was why Eric was forced to deploy one of his master thieves, Clovache, who was in the middle of her assignment in Monte Carlo.

Clovache’s efficiency was put to the test. Using analog play in Russell’s digital fortress, Clove managed to swipe the master key from the concierge before the magnetic codes were wiped clean. Russell would never use the same key in two days. He would always demand a new magnetic card every day. New key, new codes.

Planting a surveillance camera inside 808 wasn’t a viable option for Eric. Russell was paranoid enough to sweep the room for bugs. They had to find out what was so special with 808 the old-fashioned way.

It took Clovache longer than she expected but in the end she found what Russell was so adamant to keep to himself: A titanium metal safe the size of 32-inch television concealed behind the bed’s detachable headboard.

Deciphering the nine-digit code of the electronic lock was the easy part for a professional burglar like Clove. She had unlocked far more sophisticated models in the past. A certain monarch in Monaco could attest to that.

The problem was how she could gain access into the room itself on the night of the fight without triggering an alarm. Clove was first to admit that she had it easy the first time she broke into the room by using the thirty-minute window she had before the surveillance team turned on the cameras on the eighth floor. Sam could buy her five minutes, however, it wasn’t enough considering all the physical variants. She had to get the new master key from Russell, dash to the eighth floor and get inside 808 within five minutes. It was impossible.

But because of Jason’s sticky fingers, Clove already had the key.

Yes, everything was going according to plan. And Eric intended to keep it that way.

The Viking was jolted back to the present by a shrill ding-ding-ding from the middle of the arena.

The bell was louder this time, followed by a loud commotion from the crowd. He hadn’t even noticed that the fight was over. The Mexican boxer, in a surprising turn of events, managed to cop the title when the Filipino southpaw was knocked out cold by a razor-sharp right hook he didn’t see coming.

Talk about sucker punch.’

As Eric peeled himself out of his seat, he couldn’t help but steal another glance at Sookie. Russell was leaning in to her, whispering, and she bobbed her head automatically.

It was hard to watch her follow Russell around like the bastard’s personal robot. ‘Not for long.’

Pulling his gaze away from her, he threw a glimpse back at the ring. The Filipino boxer had gained consciousness, shaking his head slightly as though he was trying to wake himself up from a dreadful nightmare. Only it wasn’t a dream.

Eric knew, like the Filipino pugilist, he, too, would have his day of reckoning. But tonight wasn’t it.

The Viking turned to Sookie’s row one last time but she was already gone, along with the rest of Russell’s entourage. He pushed past the crowd as he made a beeline to the exit until he caught a glimpse of Palomino’s back as he formed a human barricade around Sookie on their way to the double metal doors.

Eric’s lips tugged into a crooked grin.

It was time to claim his prize.


E/S

The hulking shadow of Palomino jerked and spun toward the entrance as Eric shoved the double wooden doors of the empty Vista ballroom of the MGM. The Mexican sentry visibly relaxed when he identified Eric marching toward him. Eric gave the bodyguard a cursory nod and Palomino tilted his head to the side in the direction of the door that had a brushed metal sign for ‘Female’.

His skin tingled as he fought the urge to break into a run while he strode to the ladies’ room. Turning the gold-plated door handle, he pushed the laminated door forward and stepped inside the decadent powder room that had four spacious stalls.

He felt her before he saw her. She had the way of knocking the air out of him.

He noticed her lips twitch, obviously repressing a smile or a grin or whatever sly vixens do when they wanted to tease their prey.

She stepped away from the gray marble countertop and pivoted to face him, arms crossed.

“How do I know you’re not a fake?”

‘Oh, what a dangerous game you play.’

He was tempted to whip out his cock and fuck her into a boneless mess like only the true Eric Northman could. But he decided to go for a more subtle and insidious approach.

He leaned against the door, crossing his arms over his chest, mirroring her stance. “I know you have a heart-shaped tattoo on your right butt cheek.” She didn’t have one, of course.

His mouth curved into a sly smirk, wondering what would be her next move.

Her eyebrow cocked, a nearly invisible grin on her crimson lips. He was ready to settle for a draw but apparently she wasn’t.

Twirling halfway she pulled the hem of her dress to reveal the right side of her sweet, sweet ass. She dipped her head in search for the non-existent tramp stamp and shrugged one shoulder. “Oh, I’m sorry but I’ll have to ask you to leave before my boyfriend finds us here. You see, he’s very possessive and he’ll kill us both if he sees you eye-fucking my ass.”

‘Fuck me running.’

Just like that, he threw in the towel. He was outclassed spectacularly by the she-devil threatening to drive him straight into an asylum.

He barely remembered to lock the door behind him before he sprinted toward her. His huge hands latched on both sides of her face just to make sure she wouldn’t pull away because, by god, he would lose his mind if she did.

She flung her arms around him, tipping her head up to graze the tip of his nose with hers, “I missed you,” she whispered. He wanted to tell her he missed her too. Missed her like she couldn’t believe but his lips were getting impatient and all he could do was growl before he crushed his mouth with hers.

“We have got to stop meeting like this,” she hushed between ragged breaths as he pushed her against the cold marble tiles of the wall. He needed the flat surface because he knew his wonky knees would be needing extra support soon.

“I agree,” he rasped before he sucked on the soft flesh behind her earlobe, “let’s ditch the fuckers outside and just make a run for it.”

He began tracing moist kisses under her jawline and was rewarded with a gasp when he found the hollow of her throat.

“Oh, I don’t know…” she said in a sing-song voice, “you’re pretty high maintenance. I don’t think you’d be able to survive a day without your caviar and champagne.” He felt her fingers sliding down his trousers, unfastening the hook on his waistband.

His eyes rolled at the back of his skull. How was it possible that while he was on the brink of cumming in his pants, she could still be unbelievably sly?

The muffled swoosh of his zipper cut through the air before her gaze darted down his trousers. “Oh, hello there, Mr. Northman,” she drawled in her fucking throaty voice as she cupped his manhood, which stood at her command. “Someone’s a little frisky tonight?” she teased, pointing out his lack of undergarment.

“Ready for battle,” he hummed, grazing the top of her breast with his knuckles. His hand slithered down, making its way inside the lower half of her seductive dress.

He thumbed the lacy material of her boy shorts and peeled it off her with his shaky hands. Thank god, she was obedient for once as she stepped out of her undies without him asking.

He balled her thin lacy underwear in his palm before he lifted it to his face and took a long whiff.

Her cheeks blazed as she let out sharp shriek, trying to yank it from him. But even in her five-inch heels she was a midget compared to him as he held it over his head.

“This is mine,” he growled in tone that left no room for rebuttal.

She crossed her arms against her chest and huffed. “Fine. If you want me to be commando all night while we deal with Russell then by all means, keep it.”

Damn it.

“You’ll get it later,” he surrendered as he shoved her undies in his pocket, “after I’m done with you.”

She tucked her bottom lip under her teeth meekly. It didn’t matter how many times he fucked her, she would always be his little blushing virgin.

She pushed his trousers down to his knees and he pushed her skirt up to her waist. Soon he would get her all naked again, but for tonight this would have to suffice.

“Condom?” she asked when he lifted her thigh and crouched, positioning himself toward her entrance.

A devilish smirk graced his face. “What’s the point if you’re going to marry me anyway?”

“Aren’t you a bit presumptuous, Mr. Northman? You haven’t even asked me yet,” she countered, her palm shoving him lightly.

“That’s exactly why I’m releasing my swimmers. It’ll be my insurance. In case you change your mind,” he leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. “Do you really think you can still escape me, Stackhouse?”

“Spoken like a true businessman,” she crooned, poking at his chest.

He drew back, shaking his head. “Not a businessman, no. Just a man deliriously in love, desperate to catch a Stackhouse.”

He cupped the side of her jaw, the pad of his thumb stroking her cheek. “Any objection?” he inquired, wagging his brows daring her to throw another bon mot.

“Yes,” she breathed, her fingers playing with his hair at the back of his neck. Goddamn, her ministration was very distracting. “If you’re so damned delirious, then why are we still talking?”

He broke into a wide grin before he seized her lips and, in one swift motion, hoisted her up against the wall, hooking her legs around his waist. She let out a loud yelp when he thrust inside her and for a second he thought he had been rougher than he intended.

The whimper that escaped her lips appeased him and soon she was gasping with every thrust.

If he could have his way he would never let her out of his grip anymore. He would keep her tethered to him all night and the nights after that.


E/S

His eyes were on her as she ran her fingers through the soft curls of her golden hair. Her lips were swollen and her cheeks had that pinkish tinge. No one could wear the just-fucked-look better than her.

“Y’know, I saw you checking out my double,” he drawled as he leaned on the spine of one of the cubicles inside the ladies’ room.

“I know it wasn’t you,” she said with a nonchalant shrug.

“Is that so?”

“Uh-huh.” She nodded, grinning haughtily. “His hand wasn’t big enough.”

He laughed as he closed their gap. “You want to see something bigger?” he purred, his hands gliding down to cup her buttocks. His dick twitched inside his pants. What could he do, she owned his cock, among other things.

She snickered before she shoved at him. “Seriously? It’s only been five minutes!”

“You say it like its a bad thing.”

She cupped his cheek, giving him a chaste peck on the lips. “It most certainly is not. But before you go all caveman again. Need I remind you that you have an Edgington to take down. So no, sweetheart, no round two.”

He scrunched his nose, pulling her hips flush against his. “It won’t take long, I promise.”

“And that’s supposed to turn me on?” she asked with an arched brow.

He tittered when he realized he wasn’t doing a good job to plead his case. “Are you sure you can deal with Bill alone?”

Her lips pursed into a thin line. “Are you kiddin’? I’ve waited so long to bury that bastard.”

He licked his lips. She was hot to begin with, but a feral Sookie? Oh, fuck, he and his dick wouldn’t stand a chance.

“You should go. Russell’s on his way to the Regent.” She shimmied out of his hold, grabbing her purse off the counter. “Don’t hurt yourself, okay? I’m quite fond of you.” She winked and flashed a lopsided smile as she swaggered toward the door.

“Fond?” he asked incredulously, catching up to her. He pressed his palm against the door, forcing it shut. “What, are you writing a children’s book?”

Her breathy chuckle taunted him. “What?” she drawled. “That’s how they say it on Downton Abbey.”

Downton Fuckme?’

His chest heaved with a guttural growl before his arm snaked around her narrow waist, tugging her close. “Tell me you love me or I’m going to fuck you until you do.”

She thrust her chin up, refusing to yield. “I’d like to see you try,” was her sultry retort.

A soft click chimed as he pushed the lock on the handle shut.

Eric decided the takedown could wait as he went downtown on her abbey. Twice.


E/S

There was something eerie about the blank beige walls of the Mandalay basement. It wasn’t a welcoming color and maybe that was the point. This part of the hotel was where hope signed a Do-Not-Resuscitate form. It was where undesirables walked the Green Mile.

A low-pitched tunk rang across the hall as the thick double steel doors unlocked from inside, allowing Sookie and Palomino access into the next room. About twenty steps later another steel door made a baritone thunk and automatically swung open just in time for the first doors to shut behind them. Like a sally port, a system commonly used in prisons, where an entryway remained locked until the previous ones were secured.

The surveillance blanketing the long corridor could rival the defense in Alcatraz. There were no codes or cardkeys. All doors were manned remotely by the surveillance team from the control room. Palomino would only tilt his head up to the black dome beside the doorjamb for recognition and like Gandalf the Grey, the head of surveillance would decide if he (or she) would let them pass.

The basement wasn’t just the area where Russell and his men haul persons of interest for ‘interrogation’, it was also where the casino vault was located, which explained the heavy security.

Five fireproof steel doors later, Sookie and Palomino found themselves treading a narrow hallway of thick glass walls draped with white venetian blinds. Standing beside one of the sliding glass doors was a uniformed guard, who was the first person Sookie had seen in the basement since they arrived. The sentry, a medium built Caucasian with a buzz cut, nodded at Palomino and Sookie before he peeled the door open.

Sookie tried hard not to flinch when she saw Bill lying on his back on a slim white stretcher.

According to Palomino, when one of the guards tried to untie Bill’s chains from the SUV, the latter tried to make a run for it. Bill, distraught and desperate, didn’t see Mickey’s black Land Rover before it hit him from behind. The in-house physician was called in immediately. Russell, refusing to bring Bill to the ER, sent his personal surgeon instead. It took the medical team eighteen hours to tend to Bill’s injury at the lower back. But they were too late to reverse the damage done to his sacral region, paralyzing him from the waist down.

If it was up to Russell he would have pulled the plug on Bill the second the doctors declared his dismal state. But Sookie would have none of it as she demanded Bill’s transfer to a facility in Carson City that specialized in paraplegic patients.

Russell begrudgingly agreed, under the condition that Sookie would try to convince the thieving COO to divulge where he stashed the money he stole from the company.

The area surrounded by bulletproof glass and horizontal slats was bare except for the stretcher, two foldable white chairs – where another guard and a female nurse were seated – a steel four-drawer treatment cart, with a heart rate monitor on top, and an IV pole.

“Hello, I’m Sookie.” She extended her hand to the petite brunette in a white lab coat and light green scrubs. The nurse took her hand and gave it a firm shake as she introduced herself as Willa, the health-care attendant from the paraplegic center that would assist Bill’s relocation to Carson city.

“Is he awake?”

Willa, jamming her pale fingers under her glasses to rub her eyes, bobbed yes. “He’s lucid for now. We are pumping him with morphine for the pain. I could sedate him but Mr. Edgington told us to keep him conscious until you arrive.”

Sookie nodded at Willa before Palomino stepped in and dismissed the nurse and the other sentry. Palomino then made his way to the other side of the stretcher where the IV pole was located.

“Bill?” Sookie approached the bed in the middle of the sterile room. “Can you hear me?”

Bill jerked at the sound. One of his eyes was swollen shut while the other had a purplish hint around the lid. His lips were cracked and his head was covered with a thick layer of gauze. He was wearing white hospital scrubs that barely covered his bruised thighs. An IV needle was attached to the inside of his left wrist, while a pulse oximeter was clipped to his right index finger.

Sookie almost felt sorry for him. But that ship had sailed a long time ago.

He forced one bloodshot eye to open. “Sookie?” he croaked. “What’re you doing here?” Every word sounded strained.

“Just checkin’ up on you,” she replied softly.

His bitter chuckle came off as a cough. “I’m fucking peachy. Thank you very much.”

Palomino’s two-way radio made a static buzz. He stole a glance at Sookie and she nodded her permission. He unclipped his radio from his belt and marched out of the room.

Sookie stepped closer to the gurney, running her finger across the cold metal frame propped at the side of the stretcher. “Bill -”

“Save your breath, Sookie,” he cut her off immediately before he sucked in air. Ironically, he was the one who should be saving his supply of oxygen. “I know why you’re here.”

Bill turned slightly to the side staring directly at the corner of the ceiling, where a camera was installed. “I won’t tell you where it is.”

“Bill…” she sighed, gripping the steel rod with both hands, turning her back to the prying eye in the ceiling.

“If you think he will let me live longer if I tell you then you are dumber than I thought,” he spat through gritted teeth. “The minute he found out I was stealing from him I was already dead.” He closed his eyes as he took another labored breath. “So you tell him that he can go and fuck himself. You and your grandfather will never get a dime from me. ”

This was the side of Bill she had never seen before. In his current state, all gentlemanly façade had vanished completely, replaced by an acerbic man with nothing else to lose.

“I’m not here to ask you about the money, Bill.”

Bill’s eyes snapped wide open. Well, as wide as his puffed eyelids would go.

A soft whoosh announced Palomino’s return as he swung the glass door wide. He dashed to Sookie’s side and whispered, “Sophie Anne Leclerq is in the casino. She wants to talk to you.”

Sookie furrowed her brows curiously. “Did she say why?”

Palomino answered with a slow shrug. “Thompson’s with her,” he offered as he marched to his former position at the other side of the cot.

Sookie focused her attention back to Bill. The Frost Queen would just have to take a number and get in line.

Balancing her purse on top of the stainless rod, she unclasped it and fished for a red thin book. “Look what I found in your office.” She held a paperback copy of Harry Houdini’s The Right Way of Doing Wrong above Bill’s face.

The tick on Bill’s jaw gave him away. He looked away immediately, gluing his eyes back to the camera. “You found a book, so fucking what?”

“The Right Way of Doing Wrong,” Sookie read the title. “Nifty title, don’t you think? A good read, too. Although I think Houdini’s accounts were a bit outdated, considering thieves and scammers no longer use old school tricks.”

“Again,” Bill hushed, trying hard to look indifferent, “so fucking what?”

Palomino tsked in rebuke. “You shouldn’t talk that way to the person who controls your morphine, asshole.”

Bill opened his eyes to glower at the Mexican sentry. But because he could barely pop his lids wide enough to shoot venom, his glare came off rather comical than vicious.

Palomino reached for the top drawer of the treatment cart, where he picked up a small glass vial and a sealed hypodermic needle. Bill twisted his head slowly, following the guard’s movement as Palomino tore the syringe wrapper and poked the vial with the ominous-looking needle. He flipped the flask upside down and watched the clear liquid drip into the transparent tube.

Bill’s heart rate escalated as he blinked rapidly. “What the hell is that?” he growled.

“This?” Palomino asked, raising the hypo while flicking the tube. “This is for the road. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride to your new crib. This’ll help you fall asleep. We don’t want you yapping like a dog the entire trip now, do we Miss Stackhouse?”

Sookie replied with a tight-lipped smile before she pulled one of the foldable chairs closer to the stretcher.

Bill took a breath, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he watched Palomino warily from the corner of his eyes. When Palomino didn’t make a move toward his IV, Bill expelled air as he allowed himself to relax.

He turned his head to Sookie, who was sitting languidly beside the gurney. Her chair was strategically slanted to the side to hide her face from the camera.

“You’re wasting your time. That book isn’t a treasure map where I put little x’s for you to follow, Sookie,” he muttered with a thinly veiled condescension.

She crossed her legs and put the book in her lap. “I know you didn’t leave clues here,” Sookie retorted in a melodious tone. “Because the book itself was the clue.”

She leaned forward, her lips tugging at the corner. “I didn’t realize you’re a big fan of Houdini, Bill,” she started, sounding as if she was truly interested. “What’s your favorite Houdini act? Was it the Water Torture Cell or the Giant Milk Can escape?”

Bill kept silent but the sudden acceleration of his pulse broadcast clearly by the monitor beside Palomino was all the answer Sookie needed.

“You know I think you’re more of the giant-milk-can guy,” she quipped wagging her finger at him. His pulse kept accelerating to an alarming rate, making Sookie smile wider.

“Russell will never find it,” Bill mumbled feebly. Sookie wondered if Bill was trying to convince her or placating himself. She didn’t particularly care.

“You’re right. Russell won’t. But I will.”

He turned sharply to her, his matted brows drawing together. “You’re bluffing.”

She chuckled humorlessly, propping her elbow on top of her knees while cupping her chin with her palm. “You see that’s the thing, you’ll never know if I’m bluffing.”

The lines on his forehead deepened.

“I know you’re careful not to leave any money trail, which means you didn’t put it in a bank. You will keep it somewhere Russell wouldn’t think to look. And because you’re old fashion, I bet you hid it in one of your houses. Not under the mattress, of course, that’s just plain stupid.”

His pulse rate shot up. It was like having a lie detector.

“Am I getting warm?”

He pleaded the Fifth.

“Now, the question is… which house,” she continued, “Is it in your safe house in Andorra where you plan to run off? Or in your loft in Shanghai? Perhaps it’s in your villa in Belize; or your family’s manor in Bon Temps?”

She knew for a fact Bill didn’t hide his loot in any of those properties. She gave Palomino a fleeting glance when she noticed Bill’s pulse slowly returning to normal. Palomino threw her a conspiratorial smile.

Hook, line, sinker,’ she thought in amusement. It was time to bring out the nuke.

“Or maybe,” she drawled, straightening her stance, “it’s inside the giant milk cans in the basement of your two-story house in Appleton, Wisconsin.”

She didn’t need to look at the pulse monitor to see how the numbers skyrocketed in a flash.

Her mouth twisted into a Schadenfreude smile. “You thought you and Victor were so clever; buying a house in Houdini’s old hometown using his wife’s name: Wilhelmina Weiss,” she crooned, making Palomino snicker.

Bill’s arms went rigid before they flailed weakly as though he wanted to reach out and claw the smug smirk off her face.

‘Check and mate.’

Sookie raised her chin to her bodyguard. “Hey Pally, do you know how many hundred-dollar bills you can hide inside a 30-gallon milk can?”

Palomino darted his eyes at Bill then shrugged one shoulder exaggeratedly. “I suck at math, Miss Stackhouse.”

“A little over fifty thousand hundred-dollar bills. That’s five mil easy,” she quipped, her fingers splayed. “Imagine two dozen milk cans, gathering dust in his basement.”

Palomino whistled appreciatively, wiping invisible sweat off his forehead.

“Kill me now,” Bill grumbled, his eyes clamped shut.

“What is it with thieves and their attachment to money? Don’t be so morbid, you’re just poor, not dead,” Sookie cooed, giving him a soft pat on his chest. “The real mystery here is, how did you ship that much cash in Wisconsin? Did you tell Russell you’re using the money to buy cheese?” Palomino chuckled on cue. “Did you and Victor take turn? Or did you hire someone to go to Appleton to make the delivery?”

Bill gritted his teeth. “If you turn me in, I swear I’ll go Philharmonic on all o’ you. I’ll tell them everything. The drugs, the game rigging, the fucking Chariot and how you and Russell conspired in killing Thalia,” Bill spat, resorting to threats as he tried to crane his neck up to her with very minimal success. “Do yourself a favor, Sookie and kill me now.” He all but pleaded.

She tsked, shaking her head from side to side. “I’m not a killer, Bill. Never was.” She lowered her head to his ear. “Thalia’s still alive.”

Bill’s good eye rounded as his lips gaped in shock.

She lifted her head, squaring her shoulder. “And as for turning you in, don’t worry, the way I see it you’re already in prison. You’ll never walk again and, from what I heard, you’re as good as a eunuch. There’s no better prison than that. But with 120 million, I guess I can spring for a room with a view. So every time you look at the window, you’ll see everything I took from you.”

She put the book back in her purse and clamped it under her armpit. She nudged her head at Palomino and the beaming sentry stabbed the syringe filled with diazepam directly into his IV, to knock him out cold in a matter of seconds.

“You know, funny thing about your favorite escape artist: before he became Harry Houdini he was known as Eric the Great.” She flipped her hair over shoulder and headed for the door to call Willa and guard.

“By the by,” she whipped her head back to meet Bill’s glazed eyes, “Eric sends his regards.”


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