Read JC2 The Raiders Online

Authors: Robbins Harold

JC2 The Raiders (3 page)

"I don' hardly have to tell you," Nevada said, "that
you're welcome to stay here as long as you want to. Nothin' would
pleasure me more, and nothin' would make Martha happier. Nothin' but
having Monica and Jo-Ann here with you. But we gotta figure that
there'll be a problem."

"I think I know what you have in mind," said Jonas.

"Well, let's suppose I was a law feller, a United States
marshal," said Nevada, "and I come to your house and find
you've skedaddled. Now, where'd I go lookin' fer you, if I was a law
feller?"

Jonas took a swallow of Nevada's fiery brandy. He stared out at the
eastern mountains, where the sky was turning and the sun was about to
show itself. In the red light now blooming on a few gentle clouds
that had developed overhead he could see a big old rattler coiled
alongside the runway, probably moved into a defensive posture because
of the mysterious disturbance that had shaken the land half an hour
ago. A silly tiny animal skipped past, but the rattlesnake was
apparently still so alert for danger to itself that it took no notice
of what otherwise would have been a tasty meal.

"I see what you mean."

"I'd say, 'Jonas Cord, where'd he go?' And I'd say, 'What you
bet out to Nevada Smith's place?' I could hide you here. I got places
where we could hide you. Course, we'd gotta get rid of the airplane.
But, problem we got is that that plane was see'd landin' here. Hands
that work the place. Folks around. An airplane landin' on my strip
before dawn ... The word's all over. Now, if you'd druv—"

"They'd still look for me here," said Jonas.

"I'm afeard so," said Nevada.

"It's not so easy, is it? I mean, running away from the law."

Nevada turned toward Jonas with a small ironic smile on his lined
face. "No, it ain't. But it can be done. Some folks do it for a
lifetime."

"I'm not planning on doing it for a lifetime," said Jonas.

"Fellers don't, generally," said Nevada. "Question is,
just what have you done so far? Like, did you tell Monica where you
were goin'?"

"No. I told her I'd be in touch."

"That airplane out there belongs to you. They'll look for it.
First place they'll look for it is here. We got ... what? Two, three
hours? You gotta eat, then take off. I got drums of aviation gas on
hand. We'll pump your tanks up, like usual."

"Going where, Mexico?" Jonas asked.

"No. You fly 'cross the border, they track you. No. You gotta go
somewheres else."

"I guess an airplane's an impediment," said Jonas.
"Wherever it sits, it's got its numbers painted on it. You can
hide a car, but —"

"Right."

"Shit," said Jonas. "I got away for a few hours, but
—"

"You got a problem, Junior," said Nevada. "You're
business smart. You turned out to be surprisin' business smart. Your
daddy never guessed how business smart you were ... or how fuckin'
stupid you can sometimes be about life-type things. I don't know if
you should've tried to duck that subpoena. That ain't a judgment for
me to make. I know one thing. You gotta lam, and you gotta lam
smarter than you've done so far."

"Can you help me, Nevada?"

Jonas reached for the cognac bottle, and Nevada caught his hand short
of it and pushed it back. "You gotta fly, so you don't need no
more of that. I gotta make a telephone call or two. What I think you
oughta do is eat what Martha's cookin', then stretch out on a bed and
get some shut-eye. Hour or two, you'll have to take off. By that time
I may know where you can go."

3

Jonas lay in a cool dark room and tried to sleep. He dozed only, and
odd, half-real dreams ran through his head. In his dream his father
was still alive, and they were very angry with each other. About
Rina. The old resentment.

In the waking part of his dream, when he was aware of himself and
where he was, he regretted never forgiving his father. More than
that, he regretted that his father had not lived to see him take over
the company and expand it into what some people called the Cord
empire. Of course ... if his father had lived, his son would never
have had the chance to do it.

Jonas didn't believe his father was in heaven or the other place, or
somewhere out there watching him. But he wished he were. God, how he
wished that! Everything he did he measured against one standard:
Would his father have approved? He tried not to. He tried not to
think of how his father would judge. But he caught himself constantly
asking, "Did I do it right, old man?"

It was no easy standard. What would his father say, if he knew, about
ducking this subpoena? What would the old man think?

He went to sleep finally and was asleep when Nevada entered the room
and told him to wake up.

Jonas sat up and put his feet on the floor. He hadn't slept enough
and felt as if he had a hangover. Nevada handed him a mug of strong
black coffee.

"I found a place where you can go," Nevada said.

"Where?"

"Las Vegas."

"Las Vegas? There's hardly a more public place in the world.
Besides, the town swarms with federal agents, all kinds."

"Don't call an idea dumb before you even heard it," said
Nevada. "I'm goin' with ya to set things up. The first thing
we've gotta do is fly that conspicuous airplane out of here. There's
a private field in Arizona where they'll shove it into a hangar for
us. Then we'll drive to Vegas. After dark. Tonight. This is gonna
cost you some money. You carryin' any?"

"Not much."

"I'll take care of things till you get some funds transferred."

"Where'm I gonna be living, Nevada?"

"Did you ever hear of a casino-hotel called The Seven Voyages?"

"Of course."

Nevada nodded curtly. "Well, that's where you're gonna be
livin'. You got the whole top floor, and nobody but nobody is gonna
know you're there."

"How'd you arrange that?"

"Over the years, a man makes friends," said Nevada.

4

They hand-cranked a primitive pump to transfer aviation gas from
drums into the wing tanks on the Cessna. As Jonas shoved in the
throttles and the airplane roared down the short runway and lifted
off, a pair of black cars turned in at the gate and drove toward the
house.

"We played that one a little too close," Nevada remarked.
"If I was flyin' this airplane, I'd turn like we was headin'
east. I'd wanta be well out of sight of those fellers before I turned
the right way."

Jonas did exactly that. He did not turn south until he was east of
the Utah state line, after which he flew over the Grand Canyon, then
turned west. He navigated the way he'd done in the old days, before
technical types mounted all kinds of radio-navigation equipment in
airplanes. He didn't even refer to his charts but constantly compared
what he saw on the ground to what he saw on state highway maps. The
little private airport was where Nevada's friend had told him it was:
eighteen miles northeast of Dolan Springs and a mile east of a narrow
rural highway. He overflew once to have a look at the runway and
windsock, then throttled back in a left-hand pattern and touched down
just over the threshold, leaving himself plenty of room to bleed off
speed and come to a stop before the end of the runway.

A large but rusting and ramshackle corrugated-steel building sat
alongside the runway. Jonas and Nevada had hardly stepped down from
the Cessna when a tractor backed up to it and towed it inside the
building. The tractor guided it into place in a row of expensive
twin-engine private planes. Powerful electric motors pulled the big
doors shut.

Jonas and Nevada walked into the line shack, where Jonas asked the
man on duty to top off the tanks on the Cessna.

"Okay, Mr. Cord. Nice-lookin' airplane. We'll take good care of
it. We've got a car waiting for you. Understand you don't want to
leave for a while. The house at the end of the ramp is a private club
for owners and pilots."

Jonas nodded. "Fine. We'll pay it a visit."

5

Jonas and Nevada did not want to drive into Las Vegas until after
sunset, when they would be far less likely to be recognized by
chance. They knew the town. Both of them had been there before,
often.

Jonas in fact had a business connection with the city. It resulted
from the peculiar history of the State of Nevada and of Las Vegas.

The Nevada legislature had legalized casino gambling in 1931, as a
measure to pump up the state's Depression-stricken economy. A few
hotels and casino-hotels opened, but the business was modest. The
problem was Las Vegas was too remote. Los Angeles, the nearest city
of any consequence, was three hundred miles away, a daylong drive in
daunting desert heat in cars that were not air-conditioned, or a
bumpy, adventurous two-and-a-half-hour flight over deserts and
mountains. San Francisco was six hundred miles away, the East Coast
as remote as China.

The casino-hotels operated like dude ranches, on a howdy-pardner
basis with rustic accommodations and fare and no entertainment but
the gambling. Sophisticated nightclubs operated in Los Angeles, and a
few enterprising men developed the idea that Las Vegas should offer a
combination of casino gambling, first-class accommodations, and
top-notch entertainment.

The problem was, banks were reluctant to lend money to build
casino-hotels. One Benjamin Siegel, better known to the world as
Bugsy Siegel, solved that problem. With money of his own from his
bookmaking operations in California, plus money from such investors
as Meyer Lansky and Moe Greenbaum, Bugsy built the Flamingo. It
opened on December 26, 1946, with Jimmy Durante and the Xavier Cugat
band on the stage.

The Flamingo made no profit with the flamboyant Bugsy managing.
Besides, he had a furious temper and more than once attacked and
injured men who called him Bugsy — in full view of casino
clientele. A person or persons unknown — who would permanently
remain unknown — solved the Bugsy problem on June 20, 1947, by
shooting him in the head with a 30-caliber rifle as he lounged on a
chintz-covered sofa in the Beverly Hills home of his girlfriend
Virginia Hill. With him out of the way, banks were more willing to
lend money to finish the Flamingo and to construct other
casino-hotels. The Las Vegas boom was on its way. New hotels went up
all along what they began to call The Strip.

A major problem remained. Access. Las Vegas was still difficult to
get to.

Jonas Cord had contributed significantly to the solution of that
problem. In 1947 he had instituted daily Inter-Continental Airline
flights to Las Vegas from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Shortly he
made that two daily flights. His airplanes flew at high altitudes, in
the smoother, cooler air. They flew faster. On Inter-Continental, Las
Vegas was only ninety minutes from Los Angeles. Players could fly to
Vegas on an afternoon flight, gamble all night, and return on the
morning flight. Hostesses served drinks during the flights.

Airline hostesses had originally all been nurses, expected to hover
over passengers and to help them through likely bouts of airsickness.
Even after they were no longer nurses, hostesses remained treacly
solicitous. The Vegas flights were supposed to be fun, and Jonas
asked his hostesses to wear shorts. They were the first airline
hostesses in the world to wear shorts. They wore T-shirts too,
lettered intercontinental—las vegas. Most flights were full, or
nearly so. Other airlines saw the profitability of the market, and in
1948 other flights began to come in from as far away as Denver,
Dallas, and Chicago.

Jonas Cord had made a major contribution to the success of Las Vegas,
and his name was known there. He had never paid for a room, had never
paid for a drink or a meal, on any visit.

He would never have thought of coming to Las Vegas to stay while the
enthusiasm for subpoenaing him died down. That had been Nevada's
idea. He knew Nevada would have made good arrangements.

6

The little frame house at the end of the ramp was indeed a private
club for owners and pilots. They could eat, drink, play one of the
dozen or so slot machines in the hall, or visit rooms upstairs with
one of the girls who sat in the bar.

"Don't know about you," said Nevada, "but I could
stand a nice thick steak."

They took a table by a window overlooking the runway and ramp. The
table and chairs were solid maple furniture. The tablecloth and the
curtains on the window were of red-and-white-checkered cotton. A
candle had been allowed to burn down and cover with wax the neck of a
Chianti bottle in a basket. The napkins were paper.

Jonas asked for a bottle of bourbon and two thick steaks, rare, with
potatoes.

"Who's renting me the top floor of The Seven Voyages?"
Jonas asked.

"The man who owns it," said Nevada. "His name is
Morris Chandler."

"I've heard the name," said Jonas.

"Maurie and I go back a long, long way."

"Longer than the time you've known the Cords?" Jonas asked.

"Longer than that."

Jonas did not pursue the subject further. A part of Nevada's life was
a closed book. Jonas knew the broad outlines of it, as his father had
known, but Nevada Smith was not the kind of man you cross-examined.

One of the girls from the bar came to the table. She was a short
bleached blonde wearing too much red lipstick. She wore a white
peasant blouse to show off her oversized breasts.

"You guys bored?" she asked.

"As a matter of fact we're not," said Jonas. "And
we've got business to discuss."

"Oh. Well, if business gets boring, I'll be in the bar."

When she was out of earshot, Nevada said, "Maybe you oughta take
her up on it. Settle your nerves."

"The bourbon will take care of my nerves. I suppose I should
call Monica and tell her where I am."

"Wait till you're in your suite," said Nevada. "Chandler
has got the phones hooked up so they relay through an office in San
Diego, which makes it impossible for somebody to trace your call and
find out where you are. Besides, whatta you wanta bet they got your
home phones tapped by now?"

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