Hawker partners with a madam to save a world-class Vegas brothelJames Hawker finds her in the Yellow Pages, listed under “P”—for prostitution. This is Las Vegas, after all, where the world’s oldest profession is just another business. Vegas has been a wide-open town for more than a century: a place where respectable Americans can indulge their darkest fantasies. But an unpleasant new attraction has been added to this paradise of gambling and perversion—the forbidden vice called murder. Hawker isn’t a gambling man, but murder is his business. Barbara Blaine is the most talented madam in Sin City, savvy and tough and radiantly beautiful. A syndicate of gangsters wants to take over her brothel, and Blaine is ready to fight them tooth and claw. But when her longtime lover disappears, she knows the only man who can help her is Hawker, America’s deadliest vigilante. Vegas Vengeance is the 6th book in the Hawker series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Randy Wayne White was born in Ashland, Ohio, in 1950. Best known for his series featuring retired NSA agent Doc Ford, he has published over twenty crime fiction and nonfiction adventure books. White began writing fiction while working as a fishing guide in Florida, where most of his books are set. His earlier writings include the Hawker series, which he published under the pen name Carl Ramm. White has received several awards for his fiction, and his novels have been featured on the New York Times bestseller list. He was a monthly columnist for Outside magazine and has contributed to several other publications, as well as lectured throughout the United States and travelled extensively. White currently lives on Pine Island in South Florida, and remains an active member of the community through his involvement with local civic affairs as well as the restaurant Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar and Grill.
Read an Excerpt
By Randy Wayne White
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.
James Hawker found her in the Yellow Pages.
A four-by-four ad in the hotel directory sandwiched with a dozen others between Process Servers and Psychologists.
It seemed appropriate that the three headings should fall into such a convenient order.
The ad affected an Elizabethan motif: drawing of a plump lady on a plush couch beneath an ornate chandelier:
The Doll House. A reputable house for the discriminating gentleman.
There were two telephone numbers in bold print, along with an address. Beneath, in light script, was the reminder:
It's Legal in Las Vegas.
Hawker almost smiled. When had anything ever been illegal in Las Vegas? It was a wide-open town. Always had been. Always would be.
Even long before the white man came to Vegas, the local Paiute Indians were said to have been addicted to gambling. They rolled human bones in the sand and bet their wives and favorite horses. Then came the days of the gold and silver rush, and Las Vegas became a mining town. Poker debts and whores were paid for with raw gold nuggets.
After the gold and silver ran out, Nevada seemed to be left with only one natural resource: the freewheeling attitude of its citizenry. In 1931, the state legislature legalized gambling. But the clientele was mostly local, mostly ranch hands and construction workers.
Then, in 1955, a Mormon banker named E. Parry Thomas came to town and realized that while gambling fever was not unique, a municipality that would tolerate it in the open was. Las Vegas, he decided, had something very special to offer the world. Thomas risked huge loans to back the construction of gambling palaces.
Modern-day Las Vegas was born.
So Las Vegas had always been a wide-open town. It was, in fact, only within the last twenty years that a gambler could go there and be sure that if he played the legitimate houses, he would be given a straight deal.
Everything was legal in Las Vegas. And the prim establishment loved it. An ultraconservative businessman from, say, Des Moines could leave his wife, kids and life of respectability behind and spend a weekend in Vegas whoring, drinking, gambling, indulging his every whim or perversion at great expense — but in relative safety.
Las Vegas was the blossom of America's dark fantasy. A small desert town, population less than. 200,000; that was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A small desert town built on sand dunes and rimmed by blue mountains; a town that, at night, sent a gaudy, blazing neon flame brighter than Broadway's into the Nevada darkness.
A wide-open town. Gambling. Prostitution. Fast marriages, faster divorces. Booze and drugs.
But lately, it was even more wide open than usual.
Murder had been added to the city's list of vices.
Murder and extortion.
James Hawker closed the directory and picked up the phone. While he waited for an outside line, he surveyed his hotel room closely for the first time.
Kevin Smith had given him one of the best his gambling complex, the Mirage, had to offer.
A two-bedroom suite done in pale blues and desert grays.
There were copies of good watercolors and oils on the walls by Western artists: haunting landscapes of buttes and plains; raw-faced cowboys riding herd.
There was a sunken living room with ankle-deep pile carpet and a spa-size bathroom complete with whirlpool bath and mirrored walls. The balcony overlooked the Olympic-size swimming pool in the middle of the complex, and Hawker carried the phone out onto the balcony.
It was 11 A.M., and the showgirls were spending their off hours in the sun.
They lay beneath him on lounge chairs, an oiled row of lithe legs and heavy breasts in candy-colored bikinis. Blondes, brunettes and redheads sipping at drinks and rubbing on lotion.
Hawker dialed the number.
"The Doll House. Can we please you in some way?"
The girl who answered had a husky, sensual voice edged with just a hint of teenybopper.
"My name is Hawker. I'd like to speak with Barbara Blaine."
The girl hesitated. "If you're interested in setting up a private party, I can do that for you."
"I'm not interested in a private party."
"Then you know that Ms. Blaine isn't ... she employs the other girls who work here. She owns the business."
Hawker smiled. "I know Ms. Blaine isn't for hire, if that's what you mean. And I would still like to speak with her."
"Hang on then, Mr. Hawker. I'll see if she's in."
"Tell her I'm a friend of Kevin Smith's."
The girl brightened. "Captain Smith? Yes, Mr. Hawker, of course I will."
There was nothing overtly sensual in the voice of Barbara Blaine. It was a cool alto with the controlled friendliness businesspeople reserve for the acquaintances of friends.
"Yes, Mr. Hawker. How can I help you?"
Below the balcony, one of the showgirls stood. A leggy woman in her early twenties with a rich mane of auburn hair, she wore a bright lime bikini, and she had forgotten that she had untied the top. It slipped down off her breasts, showing the wide pink areolas and upturned nipples. Unflustered, she calmly tied the bikini top back on, laughed at something the other girls called out to her, then dove headlong into the Jell-O-blue water of the pool.
Just before she went in, she glanced up and saw Hawker watching her.
When she saw that Hawker was not embarrassed, she grinned.
There was something in her open, handsome face that reminded Hawker of someone.
A girl from not so long ago.
A girl he had loved. A girl whom he had lost to a bullet. A girl named Megan.
Hawker looked away from the pool, clearing his throat. "I'm a friend of Kevin Smith's, Ms. Blaine," he said. "Kevin told me about the trouble he and the other casino owners in the Five-Cs complex are having. He also suggested that your business was having the same kind of trouble."
"Yes?" Her voice had turned cool.
"Kevin asked me to check into it. I'd like to help him if I can — and you, too. Could we get together and talk?"
"Are you a cop, Mr. Hawker?"
"A private investigator?"
"In a way. Yes."
"It's just that I find it odd that Captain Smith and his associates would find it necessary to bring in outside ... help. After all, Captain Smith and Captain Wells and Mr. Kullenburg and the others are all ex-Vegas policemen. Thus the name of the complex: the Five-Cs. The five cops."
"You're welcome to call Captain Smith if you have any doubts, Ms. Blaine. He said you would probably insist on it. He said you're a hard-nosed businesswoman who doesn't take any chances."
Hawker could sense the woman smiling at the other end of the line. "Did he now? And what else did he say?"
"He told me that your lover of two years, Jason Stratton, disappeared three weeks ago and you think he's been murdered."
"I don't think he's been murdered, Mr. Hawker. I know he's been murdered."
"Then you have proof?"
"None that the official police will listen to. But we can talk about that privately, Mr. Hawker. Say in an hour? At my office?"
"I was thinking dinner might be better, Ms. Blaine. Seven in the Von Hoff Room?"
"Going to spend the day looking for clues, Mr. Hawker?"
"Kevin also said you had a gift for sarcasm. And I am going to look for leads, as a matter of fact. I'm going to drive to Mr. Stratton's cabin and have a look around."
"You won't find anything. The police didn't — and it's thirty miles from downtown Vegas."
"Kevin told me how to get there."
"The stubborn type, huh? Okay, then dinner it is, Mr. Hawker — if Captain Smith does confirm that you're working for him."
"I'll see you then —"
"Mr. Hawker," the woman cut in, "I'm sure Captain Smith has already warned you, but let me warn you again. The people who want to take over the Five-Cs complex and my business will stop at nothing. They would have murdered us long ago if the resulting publicity wouldn't make it impossible for them to consummate the takeover without a federal investigation. But Jason Stratton was an outsider. That's why they killed him. It was a way of pressuring me. And you're an outsider, Mr. Hawker. They'll kill you the moment they find out you're nosing around. Remember that."
"And why do you think they want your business so badly, Ms. Blaine?"
James Hawker repeated the question once more before he realized the woman had already hung up.CHAPTER 2
Hawker checked the suite's refrigerator before stripping off his clothes.
Kevin Smith had had his people load it with bottled beer and gourmet sandwich fixings.
On the chauffeured ride from the airport, Smith had warned him about the bad room service — an odd thing for the president of a hotel syndicate to do. But when he explained why, it made sense.
"You've got to first understand that Vegas is legit, James. Mostly legit," Smith had said. He was a barrel-chested man who still looked more like a cop than a casino manager.
"Why risk the license of a multimillion-dollar gambling plant just to cheat a customer out of a few thousand? See? Cheating doesn't make sense. If we can get our customers to gamble, then we win, because the odds are in our favor. It's a matter of mathematics. The house has just under a two percent edge in craps and blackjack, about a six percent edge in roulette, a ten percent edge with slot machines and a twenty percent edge in keno. For every one person who leaves Vegas a big winner, there are eighty others flying out losers. The other nineteen percent maybe win a little or break even. You see, cheating is stupid because we're going to win anyway — as long as we get our guests to the gambling tables."
Hawker had listened carefully — not because he was interested in gambling. He wasn't. But he knew he had to familiarize himself with the philosophy of the Vegas business establishment in order to crack the mob that was now using murder and extortion to chase Kevin Smith and his associates out of the Five-Cs complex.
"Getting people to gamble is the key," Smith had continued. "And to do that, we use tricks. We offer deluxe rooms and gourmet food at less than break-even prices. That gets them to Vegas, but it doesn't get them into our casinos. So we make the food in the restaurant just as good as we can get it — and make room service bad enough so our customers will have to go to the restaurant. The plant is designed so they have to walk through the casino to get to the restaurant. See? Same with the floor shows. We run a heavy entertainment nut, but the tables give it all back to us. We book big-name stars. Nothing but the best: Sinatra, Ann-Margret, Johnny Carson. We make the tickets cheap, and we hand out plenty of comps to people we know to be heavy gamblers. But they have to walk through the casino to get to the show. Smart, huh?
"Once they're in the casino, of course, our people take very damn good care of them. Free drinks, free food and perfect service. And that's a trick, too. We figure it costs us more for a gambler to be away from the table buying a drink than it does for us to give the gambler that drink free. See what I mean? It's all legit, but it's a trick. That's why you shouldn't expect much from room service, Hawk. Even if I gave my room service people direct orders to take care of you, they'd still be sloppy because that's the kind of people I have to have working in room service."
So Hawker was glad for the refrigerator — and amused by Vegas economics.
Hawker opened a frosted bottle of Tuborg, turned the whirlpool bath on high and settled himself into the 120-degree water.
He'd flown in from Chicago that morning, with four sour flight attendants and a capacity load of revelers all energized by booze and the hope of beating the tables of Vegas.
They wouldn't, of course. Like Kevin Smith said, it was a question of mathematics.
He had spent about an hour with Smith on a short tour of the hotel. But mostly Smith had talked about the goons who were trying to force him out of business.
He didn't have to tell him much.
Hawker's own friend and associate Jacob Montgomery Hayes had told him enough for him to know it was another job that couldn't be handled effectively by the official police.
It was a job that called for a vigilante. Someone who could move on the shadowy outskirts of the law. Someone who could move quickly and decisively. Someone who wasn't afraid to kill — or be killed.
Hawker finished his whirlpool, wrapped the towel around his waist and went to the balcony.
The showgirl with the thick auburn hair and long legs was gone.
Hawker was surprised at the disappointment he felt.
He liked women. He liked the smell of them, the feel of them, the deep throaty sounds they made in the ecstasy of bed.
But he had felt true emotion for very few of them. Hawker was honest enough with himself to admit that he used women for the pleasure they could provide him — just as the women he had been with used him.
There was seldom anything more than that. Women were a pleasurable necessity. Like fresh air.
Hawker turned from the balcony and went back into the canned chill of his room.
After unpacking, he dressed himself in gray cavalry twill slacks, a pale blue Royal Oxford shirt, a pair of glove-soft lamb's wool socks, then pulled on a cobalt doeskin flannel blazer.
In Las Vegas, a city of mobility and temporary relationships, Hawker knew first impressions were more important than in most places. He wanted to look moneyed without looking flashy. Once again he surprised himself as he realized that he really was wealthy. Not a millionaire. Not yet. But there was more money socked away in his Chicago account and his New Cayman Island account than he had ever dreamed of.
On his last assignment, he had become a partner in a south Texas oil company. Vice-president, in fact. His partners in the company knew nothing about drilling for oil. But they had something better going for them. They were lucky. Very damn lucky. And now they were all wealthy men.
Hawker thought it funny that he had found almost no use for the money. He cared little for the stuff. The one purchase he had made was that of a house on the wilderness southwest coast of Florida. A cypress house built on stilts on a broad tidal river.
He had yet to see the house.
But he liked the idea of having a place to go when he wanted to get away and fish or just be alone.
He had given a fair share of the money to friends as loans or outright gifts. That which was left over went into the bank accounts.
He sometimes wondered if he would live long enough to find a use for all the money.
When Hawker was finished dressing, he went into the suite's second bedroom. Jacob Montgomery Hayes had shipped his arsenal of equipment in wooden crates — by private courier, of course.
Hawker opened one of the crates and selected the two weapons he would never be without on this assignment.
The first was his Randall Model 18 Attack/Survival knife, made especially for Hawker by Bo Randall's craftsmen in Orlando, Florida. Hawker had used the Randall in more than one very tough spot, and he had full confidence in the weapon's integrity. He pulled up a slacks leg, strapped the custom-built scabbard over his calf-high sock and inserted the heavy knife.
The second weapon was a Walther PPK automatic. The Walther was small enough to wear unobtrusively in the spring-loaded shoulder holster beneath his sport coat. Yet, in nine millimeter, it had enough firepower with its eight-round detachable clip to be a solid man-stopper. The Walther had the expected drawbacks of every automatic handgun: it lacked killing range and accuracy, and there was always the chance it would jam.
But, as James Hawker knew better than most, every firearm was a compromise. The trick was to match the strengths of the weaponry to the demands of the assignment.
And this Las Vegas encounter, he knew, had to be a low-profile operation. He had to be able to blend into the gambling scene unnoticed, yet be able to sting the mob when the opportunity presented itself.
In Hawker's mind, keeping a low profile meant leaving no bodies for the police to find.
Excerpted from Vegas Vengeance by Randy Wayne White. Copyright © 1985 Dell Publishing Co., Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow! 11 book series just released by author Randy Wayne White writing as Carl Ramm. No one does suspense fiction like Mr. White. Memorable tough hero James Hawker utilizes his skills to get at the truth and make the world a better place. These books would make a great TV series!