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A Jake Lassiter Novel


Table of Contents

1. Loaded Dice

2. Concussion Zone

3. Cheekbones and Chic Bones

4. Am I Getting Warmer?

5. Guilty as Sin

6. A Perfect World

7. Tracks of the Monster

8. Like Father, Like Son

9. Siren's Song

10. Slippery When Wet

11. Fruit of the Earth

12. Memories

13. Water Wars

14. Road Kill

15. Ready to Wear

16. Desal

17. I Am a Man

18. Hell on Earth

19. I Hate Surprises

20. Her Lawyer and Her Lover

21. I Wanted Me

22. Chrissy, Chrissy, Chrissy

23. Javert and Finch

24. Flashbacks

25. Turning Out the Lights

26. Lead-Pipe Arteries

27. Bird Spit Soup

28. Playing the Sap

29. The Doomsday Rock

30. Body Language

31. Doomed Beauty

32. And When Chrissy's Bad...

33. Physician, Heal Thyself

34. The Defense Rests

35. Stolen Waters Are Sweet

36. Committed to the Truth

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We are each the sport of all that goes before us.


Loaded Dice

I was sitting at the end of the bar sipping single-malt Scotch—eighteen-year-old Glenmorangie at twelve bucks a shot—when I spotted the tall blond woman with the large green eyes and the small gray gun.

Not that I knew she had a gun. Not that I even saw her at first, even though she was five feet eleven barefoot, and at the moment was wearing black stiletto heels. According to the A-Form later filled out by a bored female cop, the tall blond woman wore three items of clothing that night, and the Charles Jourdan shoes were two of them. The third was a scooped-back, low-cut, black tank minidress. Nothing more. No rings, necklaces . . . or underwear. She did carry a beaded black Versace handbag, which apparently held the gun, until she pulled it out and . . .

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When she walked in, I was twirling a snifter, admiring the golden liquid inside, trying to catch the smoky scent that had the Yuppies all atwitter, and likewise trying to figure out why I wasn't home drinking beer, eating pizza, and watching ESPN, as is my custom. Life in the no-passing lane.

"Do you sense the reek of the peat?" Rusty MacLean asked me, while twirling his own glass. "Do the pepper and the heather transport you to the Highlands?"

At the moment we were five feet above sea level, two blocks from the ocean on South Beach, with palms swaying and a Jamaican steel band playing, so you'll pardon me if the outdoor club called Paranoia didn't feel like Inverness or the Isle of Skye. "Can we drink it now, or are you going to keep blowing smoke up my kilt?" I asked.

"Patience, Jake, patience. Did you clear your palette of the Royal Lochnagar?"

"Palette clear, throat dry. Can we drink it now?"

"Did you appreciate the Lochnagar's muscular, oaky flavor? The hint of sherry?"

"Okee? As in Okefenokee? As in swampy?"

Rusty gave me his exasperated, why-do-I-put-up-with-you look. "Jake, I'm trying to civilize you. I've been trying for years."

Rusty MacLean had been my teammate on the Dolphins about a thousand years ago. He was a flashy wide receiver with curly red hair flapping out of his helmet. A free spirit, the sports-writers called him. Undisciplined, the coaches said. Used to drive Shula crazy. Rusty loved to baby himself, nursing small injuries, sitting out Tuesday practices. It is a given in pro football that by midseason everyone is hurt. I've played—though not very well— with turf toe, a broken nose, and a separated shoulder, once all at the same time. Rusty, who had far more natural ability, could make a hangnail seem like a compound fracture.

Rusty MacLean raised his glass and said something that sounded like "Slanjeh. To your health, old buddy."

I hoisted my glass. "Fuel in your bagpipes."

He sipped at his Glenmorangie, while I swilled mine, letting it warm my throat. Damn good, but I wouldn't admit it. No need to spoil my image as a throwback and relentlessly uncool, unhip, and out of it. I am so far behind the trends that sometimes I'm back in fashion, just like the Art Deco buildings in the very neighborhood where we now sat, drinking and swapping lies. I wore faded jeans, a T-shirt from a Key West oyster bar advising patrons to EAT 'EM RAW, and a nylon Penn State windbreaker. I thought I was underdressed until I saw a skinny guy in black silk pants, no shirt, and an open leather vest that couldn't hide his navel ring. Or his nipple ring. Rusty wore a black T-shirt under a double-breasted Armani suit, his hair tied back in a ponytail.

He savored his drink, eyes closed, a beatific smile on his face. "Mmmm," he purred. "I've screwed girls younger than this Scotch."

"And you're trying to civilize me?"

Rusty was signaling the bartender, pointing to another bottle of the single-malt stuff. We were going in some sort of ritualized order, from Lowlands to Highlands to islands, and The Glenlivet was next. "Not Glenlivet," Rusty had instructed me, "The Glenlivet."

"I know. Like the Eiffel Tower, The Donald, The Coach."

"Robust with a long finish," Rusty said as the bartender poured the liquid gold into fresh snifters. "The marriage of power and finesse."

A waitress slinked by, offering canapés from a silver tray, smoked salmon curled around cream cheese, caviar on tiny crackers. A long way from the trailer park in Key Largo. I remembered a tavern song my father used to warble after he'd had a few, none of them sips of single-malt Scotch aged in oak casks.

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey,

Rye whiskey, I cry.

If I can't get rye whiskey,

I surely will die.

Funny thinking about my father at that moment, a knife plunged into his heart, dying on a saloon floor.

I watched her approach the bar, not from some sixth sense that trouble was brewing, though in my experience, tall blondes are trouble indeed. I watched because Rusty MacLean, using the peripheral vision that had always let him know where the safety was lurking, had just gestured in her

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