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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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ISBN: 978-1-935670-02-5 (eBook)
Published by: Telemachus Press, LLC
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For my brother, Ricky, whose approval still matters.
PART ONE: SAM CASE
Maybe it isn’t fair, but I blame Karen Vogel for what just happened.
I mean, sure, I’d made the first move, and true, I’d plotted her seduction with all the precision of the Normandy invasion. I baited the hook with romantic candlelit dinners, private dining rooms, and elegant wines. I’m the one who made all the promises, bought the clothes, the mushy cards, and glittering jewelry.
But none of this would have happened if Karen Vogel hadn’t been so … gorgeous.
We’re in Room 413, Brown Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, 10:15 am. My twenty-something-year-old conquest lies on the bed watching me through eyes like aquamarine crystals. I’m scrambling into my pants, tucking in my shirt, but those piercing eyes freeze me in place, and I’m like a deer caught in the headlights.
Karen rolls onto her side, props her chin on her fist, and says, “You meant what you said, right, Sam?”
Her toned, athletic body features long legs and a belly so fl at I can see two inches down the front of her panties, elevated as they are between two perfect hips. It’s a good view, the kind you never get tired of, and I get that feeling again, like I’m riding a lucky wave. I mean, I just banged Karen Vogel!
“I meant every last word,” I say.
“It was just three words,” she laughs, flashing her dazzling White-Cliffs-of-Dover smile, and I’m thinking, If I couldn’t bang Karen, I’d pay serious coin just to watch her brush her teeth!
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Go ahead, tell me I’m pathetic. I won’t deny it. But I’m the one standing in a hotel room with the semi-naked and infinitely beautiful Karen Vogel, not you. And of course, I’m the one she loves. What? You don’t believe me? Keep reading. I’ll prove it. “I love you, too, Sam,” she says. “That’s why I did this.” See?
She could have asked me to free Charlie Manson, watch an Oprah film festival, or swim up a ninety-mile-an-hour river of shit to Spain, and I’d have done it. But all I had to do to get in her pants was say, “I love you.”
I won’t lie. I could tell you I’ve had my share of beautiful women, and I’d be telling the truth—provided my share is equal to one. So yeah, if I’m brutally honest, I’ve slept with one beautiful woman before today. And her name is …
Her name is Rachel.
I don’t really want to talk about Rachel right now, but I’ll give you a promo and you can be the judge. It’s been years since we dated, but in those days, Rachel was coltishly beautiful. She had long brown hair with blond highlights and eyes the color of tupelo honey. Her face was unique, a fabulous contradiction for a young computer geek like me. Angular and beautiful, her face suggested a sophisticated bearing. But her ever-present, enigmatic smile identified her as a keeper of naughty secrets.
At her best, Rachel wasn’t in Karen Vogel’s league, but honestly, who is? No one I’ve ever seen. Karen is superstar gorgeous, a French Riviera head-turning, jaw-dropping beauty. So if you’re saying Karen’s the measuring stick, then Rachel, along with the rest of the planet’s women, can’t reach it. But with Rachel’s looks, you take it all in and maybe you decide the word you’re searching for isn’t beautiful, but something even more special.
She had been adorable.
I see Karen watching me from her perch on the bed. I know I’m supposed to say something to her now, something reassuring, but there’s a disconnect between my brain and mouth. So I just keep staring at her, freezing the moment in time, wondering what’s going to happen between us from here on out, and realizing we’ve both upped the ante in our relationship.
I zip my pants, notch my belt, step into my seam-stitched Prada loafers, and wonder if it’s true. Do I really love her? Perhaps not as much as she loves my money, I think. Then again, it’s hard to measure these things when you’re only a month into the relationship.
I kiss her good-bye and take the elevator down to the hotel parking garage.
In case you care, I drive an Audi R8, red with a black vertical stripe just back of the cabin. This sexy, low-slung rocket runs a hundred thirty grand and turns heads faster than Paris Hilton crossing her legs in a biker bar.
So I’m in the parking garage, fishing in my pocket for the keyless remote when I hear a crackling sound and—Christ!—something zaps my calf muscle from behind. I turn to see what’s happened, and the next thing I know, I’m rubbing the back of my neck where it feels like someone stuck me with a hypodermic needle.
I’m groggy, but I feel movement and realize I’m in the back seat of a stretch limo with two guys. The one on the left is a muscle-head; looks like Mr. Clean on steroids. The other guy’s a well-dressed older man with slicked-back gray hair. He’s wearing a black silk suit with vertical white lines and a white tie. The voice in my head is saying, Oh shit, this is the real deal, and the voice is right. This is a full-fl edged gangster sitting across from me, and he’s just asked me something. Unfortunately, my head is in a fog and I’m still reeling, so I can’t quite make out what he said.
Trying to buy time to get my bearings, I say, “I’m sorry. Who are you? What did you just say?”
“Your wife,” he says.
I look around. He’s talking to me? His words seem to be coming from deep in a well. Did he just ask me about my wife?
“What about her?” I ask.
“What’s her bra size?”
“Her … what?” I ask. “Who are you? What the hell are you talking about?”
He sits there in silence, with no hint of a smile.
I pat my pocket instinctively, feeling for my cell phone. Then I remember I left it in the car so I wouldn’t be disturbed while seducing Karen. Nothing kills the mood faster than a phone call, right?
Unless you’re interrupted by a gangster. That would be worse.
I’m trying to remain calm, hoping to clear my head of this thick, fuzzy feeling. I look out the window and see we’re only about eight blocks from the hotel. We’re moving slowly, making our way down Liberty Street. I look out the window and see a homeless guy sitting on the curb, his back propped against a street lamp. He’s wearing a red corduroy jacket and holding a sign in his lap that says, “Stop Offering Me Work!” I wonder briefly if this is some sort of marketing ploy on his part, and it strikes me I’ve got more important things to worry about, like what the hell is going on. I’m afraid to stare at the gangster or Mr. Clean, so I continue looking out the window. We’re picking up speed now. I watch us pass a heart rehab clinic, an office building with a Starbucks on the first floor, a Thornton’s gas station, and then it’s under the interstate and up the ramp onto the expressway, heading east.
“Where are you taking me?” I ask.
The well-dressed Sopranos wannabe waves his hand. “Here’s your problem: you ask too many questions. I ask a simple question, you ask me two in return. So I’m gonna try again,” he says. “What’s Rachel’s bra size?”
I go cold inside. This mobster knows my wife’s name?
If we’re being completely honest, I should admit that after dating Rachel six years ago, I married her. And while she’s no longer coltish or enigmatic, I still love her very much. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, given my recent activities with Karen Vogel and having heard me profess my love for her back in the hotel room. You need to understand—well, you don’t need to understand it at all. But I’d like to explain. Wooing and bedding Karen has nothing to do with loving Rachel. I need—I crave—the attention, the … appreciation. It’s been such a long time since Rachel was impressed by anything I’d accomplished. Do you have any idea what it’s like to invent something no one has ever thought of before? Something only a handful of people in the world even know about?
No, of course you don’t. No offense, but if you’d done that, you’d be telling your own story right now instead of reading mine.
What did I do that’s so special?
Drum roll, please … I created a computer program that makes it impossible to track money. Bear with me, this is a bigger deal than you might think. If you deposit, say, a hundred million dollars in a checking account, my program splits that sum into a hundred different bundles and shoots them at bullet speed to different banks all over the world every twenty minutes. The only way to stop the transfers is to enter a sixteen-digit code into my Web site. When that happens, the bundles park themselves in their current location until a second code, known only to my clients, is entered. Then the bundles reassemble into the client’s original checking account. I only have eighteen clients, but they each pay me ten thousand a month to keep their money safe from prying eyes.
We all sit and look at each other as the limo switches lanes and accelerates onto I-64. After a moment of silence, the gangster says, “You love your wife, Sam?”
Do I love my wife?
“Of course I love her,” I say, wondering where this is going. Does he know about Karen? Could he possibly know about the affair?
“You love your wife, you oughta know her bra size,” he says.
I allow myself to relax the slightest bit. At least this isn’t about Karen. I give him a defiant stare. Who the hell does he think he is? If not for the complete absence of humor, I’d have sworn this was all a big, unfunny joke. In the background, I hear the limo driver talking softly into a wireless phone device. “Four minutes,” is the only thing I hear him say clearly.
Four minutes? Till what?
The gangster’s voice contains no hint of inflection. “Rachel’s bra size, Sam,” he says. “Last chance.” I shout, “Fuck you!” We pull off the interstate and turn onto Cannons Lane, heading for Seneca Park.
“Are you trying to kidnap me?” I ask, wondering why it took so long for this happy thought to enter my brain. They’re not answering, but it doesn’t feel like a kidnapping—not that I’ve ever been involved in one. But no, whatever this is, it isn’t a kidnapping. If it were, they’d be kidnapping Rachel, not me. They’d kidnap her and hit me up for the ransom. And if they knew what I did for a living, we’d be talking seven figures. Anyway, the only demand I’d received so far was my wife’s bra size. Rachel’s great looking, but I seriously doubt this bit of personal information warrants my kidnapping.
My name—Sam Case—isn’t well-known, even in Louisville. Even our closest friends have no idea what I do. They think I’m a computer whiz, a guy who corrects the glitches and circular references that plague new software applications prior to launch. I do that from time to time, and those jobs bring in a quarter mil each year, which is nothing to sneeze at. But even Rachel doesn’t understand what I really do. Of course I tried to explain it to her a hundred times. When you’ve done something amazing, you can’t wait to tell your wife, right? I put in thousands of hours, poured my heart and soul into this, and the day I finally made it work, I tried to turn it into a big night. I planned a huge celebration; I couldn’t wait to see the look of pride and admiration in her eyes. But she couldn’t have cared less. To her, it was another possible paycheck at best. Lockdown T3, that’s the name of my electronic money program, the one that constantly shifts funds from one bank to another, all over the world, three times per hour, seven days a week.
Rachel barely made an effort to comprehend it. Two minutes into the explanation, she goes, “How can that possibly be true? Banks are closed on weekends and holidays.”
“It doesn’t matter if American banks are closed on certain days,” I say. “It’s always the next day somewhere in the world—or the previous day.”
“You’re hysterical,” she says.
“Hysterical?” Of all the comments she could have made, who’d have guessed she’d come up with that? Then she says—I shit you not, “Pass the salt, please.”
The appearance and demeanor of the gangster sitting across from me suggests serious wealth, but not at the level sufficient to make my client list—not that I’m seeking new clients. He appears cool and calm. His voice comes across in a practiced, matter-of-fact tone, and he’s trying for sophisticated, but not quite pulling it off. His hands are meaty, his knuckles gnarled, and I see traces of scar tissue around both eyes, remnants of battles waged and won. This man strikes me as one who fought and clawed his way to the top of a very dangerous ladder. Though he is middle-aged and unarmed, something about him makes him more frightening than the muscle-head sitting beside him.