Luke Murphy’s Dead Man’s Hand excerpt Part 3 of 3

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Prologue

At exactly 6:15 p.m. on a Sunday, Calvin Watters parked his rusted Ford Taurus across the street from a vacant house. Climbing out, he put on a pair of sunglasses and scanned the neighborhood for any movement or potential hazards.

He moved to the back of the car and opened the dented trunk. It creaked in the still night as it slowly swung up. He pulled out a worn black leather case and slid it under his vest. Then he closed the trunk and headed for the door.

He’d been using the rundown house in the red-light district of Las Vegas as his workshop for three years. It suited his purpose. No interruptions, no inquisitive neighbors. Even the local police avoided the area.

He checked the perimeter again. At six-five and 220 pounds, with tattooed arms and gold chains dangling around his thick, muscular neck, a black man like him just didn’t go unnoticed in Las Vegas.

The street was silent as he approached the house. Weeds sprang from cracks in the sidewalk and shattered liquor bottles blocked the entrance. The barred windows were broken and the screen door had been ripped off its hinges. His sense of smell no longer reacted to the stench of urine and vomit.

Calvin surveyed the area one last time. Extreme caution was one of the reasons he had succeeded in the business for so long. His habits had kept him alive. Satisfied no one had seen him, he trudged his way up the walk.

Even though he was the best in the business and had once enjoyed the adrenaline rush that came with the trade, the next part of the job made his skin crawl. His goal was to save the money he needed to get away, start over, but he didn’t know if he could last on the job long enough. That uncertainty made his life even harder.

He unlocked the door, stepped inside and shut it behind him. Heading for the basement, he took a narrow set of wooden stairs that creaked as he descended into darkness. His dreadlocks scraped cobwebs along the rough ceiling. He flicked the switch and a low-watt bulb cast dim light.

The tiny room had almost no furniture. The bare concrete floor was dirty and stained with dried blood. In the middle of the room, a lone wooden chair—double nailed to the floor—was occupied.

“Hello, James,” Calvin said, his face expressionless.

James Pierce stared at him through bulging, fear-filled eyes.

“Sorry about the bump on the head, but I couldn’t have you conscious when I moved you here.”

When Calvin removed the case from his vest, he saw Pierce’s pant leg moisten.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why your shoes and socks are off and your pant legs rolled up. We’ll get to that.”

He laid the case on a small table, strategically placed next to the chair. “There’s only one way out,” he said, snapping open the lid. He knew his hostage saw one thing when he looked at him—professionally trained brutality.

He checked his watch. Pierce had been there for four hours. The waiting and anticipation alone were more than most men could handle. They often begged for their lives. It was a very effective method.

He stared at Pierce for a long moment and then turned away, his stomach churning.

Get a grip, Calvin! Hurry up and get it over with before you change your mind.

And lose the reputation he’d spent three years building.

He ripped the duct tape from the man’s mouth and pulled out the old rag. “Time for me to collect.”

Pierce gasped, breathing in air greedily. “Please, Calvin. I beg you. Don’t do this.”

“You’re a degenerate gambler, James. Your expensive hobby and inability to pay has put you here. You knew the rules. They were laid out well in advance.”

“No! Please…”

Calvin tried to block out the man’s cries. A sudden dizziness overwhelmed him and he grabbed the chair to steady himself. Finish the job. “You know how this works.” He stared at Pierce.

“I promise I’ll pay. Just give me one more day. Please.”

“You knew the rules. You’ve already had an extra week, James. You’re lucky Mr. Pitt is a forgiving man, more forgiving than I am. He’s only counting that week as one day late. But if you aren’t in his office tomorrow morning with all the money, you’ll be seeing me again. Every late day will count as two. And I won’t be so nice next time.”

“I’ll pay.” Pierce sobbed.

Calvin heaved a sigh. “Relax. It’ll all be over soon.”

He leaned over the table. For effect, he took his time as he opened the leather case and removed the tools of his trade. “One day, one joint.”

This was when most of them broke down all the way. And Pierce didn’t disappoint him. A scream boiled from the man’s belly and erupted like a relentless siren.

Calvin ignored Pierce as best he could. There were 206 bones in the human skeleton. A pro had trained him to use them all.

“Hammer or pipe cutter?”

“God, no!”

“Hammer or pipe cutter?” He threw a punch at Pierce’s jaw, sending bloody spit into the air.

“Hammer!” Pierce screamed.

“Finger or toe?”

Pierce squeezed his eyes shut. “Toe.”

Calvin stuffed the dirty rag back into the man’s mouth. He turned and pressed play on the radio resting on the table, turning the volume up a few notches, careful not to bring attention to the house. The pounding, vibrating beat from Metallica not only drowned out his prey’s moans of pain, but the sound took him back to his glory days. He removed a ball-peen hammer from the pouch and moved in on his quarry’s bare feet.

“Toe it is then.”

He got down on one knee and lifted the hammer above his head.

After Pierce had passed out from the pain, Calvin checked the man’s breathing and then entered an adjoining room that could be locked from the inside. On one side, the shelves were piled with canned or packaged food and beverage containers. He had stored several months’ worth of supplies in case he ever came under siege and was trapped.

His complete arsenal hung on the other side. He’d been collecting weapons for three years, purchasing them where he could when he had saved some money. Now the arsenal was almost complete and in his mind, quite impressive. The arsenal had been developed for defensive purposes only.

He had never carried a gun as a collector, but now he selected a weapon for his trip. Something small enough to conceal, but at his ready in case he ran into a nosy cop or former client.

He checked on Pierce again as he left the bomb shelter and moved upstairs to his computer. Once the computer booted up, he hacked into a couple of restricted sites, trying to find any mention of his name by a babbling client or angry competitor. Seeing nothing, he switched over to the LVMPD site to make sure Rachel was staying clean. He checked up on her three times a week. He wouldn’t let her slip up.

He logged off and documented his latest collection, noting the methods that worked with Pierce, as well as times and techniques. All of the information was added to a file that spanned three years.

Shutting down the computer, he returned to the basement. He transported Pierce to the gambler’s blood-red sedan, which Calvin had parked by the river. He knew that within the hour James would wake up and drive home. What would he tell his wife? There was no worry about Pierce ever relaying this incident to anyone else. Calvin was sure of that.

As he drove back to his workshop, he let out a soft groan. “I need out.”

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