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Authors: Andrew Kaplan

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BOOK: Hour of the Assassins
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“I've been thinking about you while I was asleep,” C.J. brought out tentatively. She patted the bed for him to sit beside her and then she began stroking his arm.

“You were in Vietnam, weren't you?” she asked.

“Yes, sort of.”

“Did you ever kill anybody?”

“That's what war is all about, isn't it?” he snapped.

“What's it like to kill someone?”

That question always fascinated women, he thought. Maybe it's a turn-on for them. Maybe that's what war is all about, a turn-on for the spectators.

“It's easy,” he said.

“God, sometimes you scare me.”

He leaned over and kissed her brutally, his hands pressing her into the mattress, his tongue thrusting deep into her mouth. At first she responded, then she twisted away desperately, terrified at the sudden power and sheer savagery of his body. Abruptly he shoved her away and took a drag from his cigarette, his eyes bright and cold as green ice.

“How long have you been back?” she asked, surprising him. He hadn't given her credit for being so perceptive and tough-minded.

“It's been a while,” he said, and suddenly tired, he lay back on the pillow and watched the smoke rise to the ceiling.

She thought a long time, then put her fingers hesitantly to his cheek.

“No,” she said softly, sadly. “You never came back.”

CHAPTER 4

Everything is for sale in Las Vegas. That's probably true in most cities, but nowhere does money talk more loudly and openly than in Vegas. In its own way Vegas is the unique embodiment of the American dream carved in concrete, neon, and white stucco. It is the Babylon of the middle class, the Monte Carlo for salesmen and secretaries, the one place in America where the term
working girl
means prostitute and where you can indulge in any sin, so long as you pay for it in cash.

Even before the Paiute Indians came, the sixteenth-century Spaniards, who were building the Spanish Trail between Sante Fe and the Camino Real, had discovered the fertile valley. Ringed by harsh treeless mountains, the valley was an oasis of grass fields fed by natural springs, and so the Spanish called their settlement Las Vegas, meaning “The Meadows.” But if Vegas got its name from the Spanish, it got its character from Bugsy Siegel, a gangster of the forties, who understood, perhaps better than anyone else, that what Americans really wanted was a gaudy cut-rate merry-go-round where everyone gets a crack at the brass ring and where even the losers can pay for their sins on the installment plan. And that was why Caine had come to Vegas. There were things he had to buy and it would be easier in a town where money is as sacred as the name of God to an orthodox Jew.

Or at least so Caine thought in the taxi from McCarran International Airport to the Strip. The taxi turned into the circular drive around a huge fountain display and pulled up to the main entrance of Caesars Palace. As the driver got Caine's suitcase out of the trunk, he said, “There it is, pal. The biggest Italian car wash in town,” gesturing at the fountains spraying water at least a hundred feet into the air. Caine smiled appreciatively, but his eyes behind his sunglasses were not smiling. The tail in the brown sports jacket he had first spotted at LAX was still with him. He registered under the name Charles Hillary, the identity he had picked up in Hollywood the previous night. The long-haired bellboy, who looked like a college student except for his cynical expression and knowing eyes, took Caine's suitcase up to the twelfth floor. Caine barely glanced at the plaster Roman statues set in niches along the corridor as he followed the bellboy to his room. After the bellboy had put away the suitcase and fussed about the lavish suite a bit, Caine gave him a five-dollar tip—adequate in case he wanted to buy a little something extra later, but not enough to make the boy remember him—and locked the door as soon as he was alone.

He lit a cigarette and sat down in the large easy chair opposite the bed. The room was opulently furnished, with oversized furniture on an ankle-deep gold carpet. The living area was separated by arched dividers from the bed that stood on a raised platform with steps. Caine walked over to the window and looked down at the city. The hotels and golf courses were spread out below him like the toys of a giant. He turned away and looked at the immense raised bed again and grinned. The place was a standing invitation to debauchery.

Then his brow furrowed. He would have to flush the tail and find out who was after him and why. But he could take care of that later. He only planned to be in Vegas for a couple of days, so the Hillary cover should hold. But it was annoying that he had to worry about his cover so soon. After all, he had just acquired it a few hours ago.

The first thing C.J. had done yesterday morning was to take a snort of coke and go down on him. Then she straddled him, her sea-blue eyes fastened on his like a leech, as they bucked and heaved in a sweaty tangle. For the first time, he was truly aware of her, not of her body but of her, and he groaned as he came into her. Afterward she tenderly nuzzled his neck and ear.

“It was better this time,” she said.

“Much.”

“Karl said you have to leave. Will you be coming back?” she asked, and wouldn't look at him.

“I'll be back,” he said and wondered if it was true. She smiled and snuggled against his shoulder.

After a leisurely brunch at Alice's on the Malibu pier C.J. had dropped him off at the airport. But instead of heading straight to Vegas, as he had indicated to Wasserman, he had doubled back and rented a car. He drove the freeways to Hollywood and checked into a cheap motel on Highland Avenue. He spent the rest of the day in his room, except for brief excursions to a stamp shop, a stationery store, and finally a costume store on Sunset, where he bought a curly black wig, a mustache, and a red silk shirt. On his way back to the motel he stopped at a photographer's studio and had half-a-dozen passport photos made, paying extra for immediate development.

Back in his room he wrote himself a meaningless business letter filled with buy-and-sell agricultural commodity quotations taken from
The Wall Street Journal
. He carefully glued the Mauritius one-penny stamp to the envelope and, next to it, two other canceled Mauritian stamps that had come in a two-dollar packet from the stamp store. He wrote a return address on the envelope from a nonexistent Mauritian company, but left the name of the addressee blank, since he didn't know what cover name he would be using. Then he burned the remaining stamps. He also burned the hundred-dollar bill that Wasserman had first sent him, using it to light a cigarette. He knew it was childish, but it was something he had always wanted to do, and besides, he had to destroy the bill in any case, since it had Wasserman's number on it and was the only physical link connecting them. The last thing he did before taking a nap was to ring the desk and instruct them to call him at 8:00
P.M.

He met Charles Hillary at the Peacock Lounge on Hollywood Boulevard, the second gay bar he had hit that evening. Hillary was just what he was looking for. He was the same height as Caine, although thinner, with wavy blond hair and fine even features. He squinted slightly, which indicated that he might be nearsighted, and he wore lipstick and just a touch of eye makeup. He would play the “fem” to Caine's “butch,” and was probably used to a passive role, so he shouldn't be much trouble, Caine deckled. After a few drinks, during which Hillary ran his fingers admiringly up Caine's arm, shivering slightly at the feel of the silk and the hard muscles underneath the shirt, they agreed that the noisy atmosphere of the bar, the queens screeching in noisy voices and cattily eyeing, each other, was terribly crude and they left arm in arm. As they walked out, Hillary threw a triumphant glance at his fluttering friends. He had a dark-haired Adonis, oozing machismo, on his arm. Hillary drove them to his nearby apartment and, when they got inside, excused himself so he could slip into something more comfortable.

Hillary came out of the bedroom, wearing a flaming pink velvet robe and sat next to Caine on the couch. He nuzzled Caine's neck, then ran his lips down the silk shirt and breathed warmly on Caine's crotch. Caine spread his legs slightly and slid to the edge of the couch, as Hillary knelt before him and leaned forward. Suddenly, without any change in expression, Caine brought his knee up sharply into Hillary's chin, snapping the head back. Hillary crumpled to the floor, moaning through his shattered teeth. The blood trickled from his mouth and seeped into the carpet. He had almost completely bitten through his tongue. Caine considered kicking him again in the jaw, but the moaning stopped. He knelt and felt the erratic pulse of the unconscious man and was warmed by a vague sense of relief. After all, he hadn't wanted to kill the poor bastard. After a bit of searching, Caine found Hillary's wallet in a pants hip pocket in the bedroom and quickly scanned the driver's license and credit cards. He had been right. Hillary wore wire-rimmed glasses in the license photograph. He took the wallet and methodically rummaged through the apartment to make it look like an ordinary robbery. Not that he thought that Hillary would go to the police. Homosexuals usually avoided the police, from whom they could expect little sympathy. As he left the apartment, he heard Hillary beginning to groan. He quickly walked two blocks to Sunset. On the way he dropped the black wig-and mustache in an apartment house trash bin. He caught a taxi outside Schwab's and took it to near where he had parked the car.

Caine briefly studied the license photograph in the car, then drove to an all-night drugstore, where he bought hair dye, a curling set, and a pair of Polaroid light-sensitive wire-rimmed glasses of the same type as in the photograph. Back in his motel room, he dyed his hair blond, set it in the style in the photograph, and practiced the signature on the license. He destroyed everything he had bought and put the shirt and the other things that couldn't be destroyed into the motel garbage can near the manager's office. Then he called and made a reservation for the morning flight to Vegas under his own name. He also called an all-night accommodation number and reserved a room at Caesars Palace under Hillary's name. Everything had gone perfectly, except for the tail he had spotted at LAX in the morning.

Caine stubbed out his cigarette in a large marble ashtray that stood on a coffee table modeled in the massive Roman style. He decided he would take care of the tail later that night. Meanwhile he had things to do that were innocent enough, so it didn't matter whether he was tailed or not. He found a telephone directory in a desk drawer and noted the address of the public library, a hardware store, a luggage shop, and several gun stores. Then he went down to the lobby, casually checking for the tail. He saw the arm of the brown jacket almost hidden behind a copy of the L.A.
Herald-Examiner
, then turned away and walked around until he found the Rent-a-Car booth, where he rented a Chevy Vega. He picked up a map of the city from the Rent-a-Car agency and followed it to the public library.

The librarian was a pretty young woman in jeans who proved very helpful. She directed him to the microfilm viewer, where he ran through back issues of the Las Vegas
Sun
. He was looking for the by-line of a reporter: someone who knew everything going on in town, but who was discreet enough not to mention names. After about an hour he decided on a reporter named Cassidy. He went outside the library to a pay booth and called the newspaper, asking for the reporter.

A twangy western voice answered and Caine suggested that they meet in Cleopatra's Barge that evening about eight thirty. He promised Cassidy the inside story on a hell of a scoop. Cassidy guardedly accepted his invitation, the cynicism and doubt heavy in his voice.

“How will I find you?” he asked.

“Don't worry, I'll find you,” Caine replied and abruptly hung up.

Caine then bought hair color rinse and a large roll of plastic sheeting at a nearby supermarket. His next stop was the hardware store, where he picked up a hacksaw, a small vise, a trench shovel, flashlight, and a Smith & Wesson stainless steel folding knife. At the luggage shop he bought a large leather suitcase and a small vinyl airline-style shoulder bag. As he came out of the hardware store, he noted that the tail was in a gray Ford parked down the street. He placed the shovel and the plastic roll in the large suitcase and everything else into the airline bag. Then he drove downtown to the Greyhound bus station and put the large suitcase into a locker. Caine relaxed in the station for a few minutes till he made Brown Jacket again, then drove to the elaborate Boulevard Mall shopping center.

A large sign spread across the Sears window proclaimed, “Joy to the world, on earth peace and goodwill to men,” and loudspeakers electronically carolled. For the first time, he was reminded that it was almost Christmas. The mall thronged with the bustle of holiday shoppers and he felt a sudden stab of loneliness. But wasn't it that same Christ who had said, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air their nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head,” perhaps one of the loneliest sentences ever uttered? And Caine had no family or place to call his own, either. More than ever, he felt an alien in the crowd. He ambled along the bricked walk, peering at the shop windows stylishly dressed for Christmas and attractively enclosed with wrought-iron gates. After a while he went into the Broadway and purchased a pair of jeans and a cowboy shirt. Lastly, he stopped at a camera shop and purchased a Hasselblad, a cheap Polaroid camera, a Film Shield lead-coated pouch, and several rolls of film for both cameras. That was about all he could do with the tail on him, so he drove to the Desert Inn Country Club and played a challenging nine holes.

He completely forgot about the tail and concentrated totally on the game. In fact it was Caine's ability to dispassionately concentrate on something that made him so formidable. Just before making a chip shot on the seventh hole, he remembered that the psychologist at Langley had once asked him, “What is the most important thing in the world to you?”

BOOK: Hour of the Assassins
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