V Is for Vengeance, p.1Sue Grafton
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - BEFORE
Chapter 5 - NORA
Chapter 6 - DANTE
Chapter 10 - NORA
Chapter 14 - DANTE
Chapter 18 - NORA
Chapter 22 - DANTE
Chapter 26 - NORA
Chapter 29 - DANTE
Chapter 31 - DANTE
Chapter 32 - AFTER
ALSO BY SUE GRAFTON
ALSO BY SUE GRAFTON
Kinsey Millhone mysteries
A is for Alibi
B is for Burglar
C is for Corpse
D is for Deadbeat
E is for Evidence
F is for Fugitive
G is for Gumshoe
H is for Homicide
I is for Innocent
J is for Judgment
K is for Killer
L is for Lawless
M is for Malice
N is for Noose
O is for Outlaw
P is for Peril
Q is for Quarry
R is for Ricochet
S is for Silence
T is for Trespass
U is for Undertow
A MARIAN WOOD BOOK
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons
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Copyright © 2011 by Sue Grafton All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions. Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
“V” is for vengeance / Sue Grafton
“A Marian Wood Book.”
ISBN : 978-1-101-54813-4
1. Millhone, Kinsey (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—California—Fiction.
3. Theft—Fiction. 4. Organzied crime—Fiction. 5. Murder—Fiction. 6. Revenge—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This one is for the Humphrey clan to honor all the years we’ve been together.
Chuck and Theresa
Pam and Jim
Peter, Joanna, and baby Olivia
Kathy and Ron
and, of course, my darling Steven
The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of the following people: Steven Humphrey; Jay and Marsha Glazer; Barbara Toohey; Lieutenant Paul McCaffrey, Santa Barbara Police Department; Sergeant Detective Bill Turner (retired), Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department; and Chief of Police Deb Linden, San Luis Obispo; Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times; Renn Murrell, funeral director, Arch Heady & Son Funeral Directors; Dana Hanson, funeral director, Neptune Society; Kelly Petersen, manager, and Cherry Post, Andi Doyle, and Emily Rosendahl of Wendy Foster; Steve Bass; Tracy Pfautch, former manager, Mall Security, Paseo Nuevo, Santa Barbara; Matt Phar, Santa Barbara Loan and Jewelry; Lisa Holt, Kevin Frantz, and Liz Gastiger.
Las Vegas August 1986
Phillip Lanahan drove to Vegas in his 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, a snappy little red car his parents had given him two months before, when he graduated from Princeton. His stepfather bought the car secondhand because he abhorred the notion of depreciation. Better that the original owner take that hit. The car was in pristine condition, with 15,000 miles on the odometer, a black leather interior, fully accessorized, with four brand-new tires. The car could jump from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds.
With the top down, he hugged the coastline and then continued traveling east through Los Angeles on the 10. From the 10 he picked up the 15, which took him straight into Vegas. The sun was harsh and the wind whipped his hair to a wild tangle of black. At the age of twenty-three, he knew he was good-looking and he carried the knowledge like a rabbit’s foot for luck. His face was lean, clean-shaven; his dark eyebrows straight; ears tucked close to his head. He wore jeans and a short-sleeve black polo shirt. His white linen sport coat lay folded beside him on the passenger’s seat. In his duffel he had ten grand in hundred-dollar bills, compliments of a loan shark he’d recently met.
This was his third trip to Vegas in as many weeks. The first time, he’d played poker at Caesars Palace, which, though vulgar and overblown, had everything you’d ever want in one sprawling complex. That trip had been magical. He could do no wrong. The cards fell into place, one hand after another. He read his opponents, picking up tells so subtle he felt psychic. He’d driven to Vegas with three thousand dollars he’d pulled from a savings account and he’d run it up to eight with no sweat.
The second trip had started out well but then he lost his nerve. He’d returned to Caesars, thinking the same gut-level instincts would come into play, but his reads were off, the cards wouldn’t come, and he couldn’t regain ground. He left the casino a miserable five grand down. Thus the meeting with the loan shark, Lorenzo Dante, who (according to Phillip’s friend Eric) referred to himself as a “financier.” Phillip assumed the term was meant tongue-in-cheek.
He’d been uneasy about the appointment. In addition to Eric’s filling him in on Dante’s sordid past, he’d assure
He’d met Dante in his office in downtown Santa Teresa. The space was impressive, all glass and high-gloss teak, leather-upholstered furniture, and soft gray wall-to-wall carpeting. The receptionist had greeted him warmly and buzzed him through. A sexy brunette in tight jeans and spike heels had met him at the door and escorted him past ten interior offices to a large corner suite at the end of the corridor. Everyone he caught sight of was young and casually dressed. He imagined a cadre of tax attorneys, as well as accountants, financial hotshots, paralegals, and administrative assistants. Dante was under indictment on racketeering charges, and Phillip had expected an atmosphere both tense and sinister. He’d worn an expensive sport coat, thinking to show respect, but now he realized the image was all wrong. Everyone he saw wore casual attire, stylish but understated. He felt like a kid dressing up in his daddy’s clothes, hoping to be taken for an adult.
The brunette showed him into the office, and Dante leaned forward across the desk to shake hands, then motioned Phillip into a seat. Phillip was startled by the man’s good looks. He was in his midfifties, a big guy, probably six foot two, and handsome: soulful brown eyes, curly gray hair, dimples, and a cleft in his chin. He appeared to be in great shape. The warm-up conversation had covered Phillip’s recent graduation from Princeton, his dual major (business and economics), and his job prospects. Dante listened with apparent interest, prompting him now and then. Actually, nothing in the way of employment had materialized as yet, but the less said about that the better. Phillip spoke about his options, not mentioning he’d been forced to move back in with his parents. That was too lame to bear thinking about. Phillip began to relax, though his palms were still damp.
Dante said, “You’re Tripp Lanahan’s boy.”
“You knew my dad?”
“Not well, but he did me a good turn once upon a time . . .”
“Excellent. I’m glad to hear that.”
“. . . Otherwise, you wouldn’t be sitting here.”
“I appreciate your time.”
“Your friend Eric says you’re quite the poker player.”
Phillip shifted in his seat, steering a course between modest and boastful. “I played all through college, starting my freshman year at Princeton.”
Dante smiled and his dimples flashed briefly. “No need to mention Princeton again. I know where you went to school. Was this high stakes or you taking change off a bunch of donkeys at some frat house?”
“Actually, I played in Atlantic City and picked up enough change most weekends to cover my expenses.”
“You didn’t work your way through school?”
“I didn’t need to.”
“Lucky you,” Dante said, “though, just off the top of my head, poker parlors couldn’t be the lifestyle your dad had in mind for you.”
“Well, no, sir. I expect to work. That’s why I got my degree. At this point, I’m just not sure what I want to do.”
“But you’ll decide soon.”
“I hope. I mean, that’s certainly my intention.” Under his sport coat, Phillip felt his shirt dampen, sticking to his back. There was something fearsome about the man, almost as though there were two of him, the one benevolent, the other pitiless. On the surface he seemed affable, but underneath, a shadow personality was in play, prickly and sharp. Phillip was anxious, uncertain from moment to moment which of the two he was dealing with. Now Dante’s smile faded and the alternate took over. Maybe it was in business matters that Dante became dangerous.
“And you’ve come to me for what?”
“Eric says you sometimes advance him cash if he’s experiencing a shortfall situation. I was hoping you’d do the same for me.”
Dante’s tone was pleasant, but the benevolence didn’t reach his eyes. “A sideline of mine. I lend money to people the banks won’t touch. For this I charge fees and administrative costs. How much are you looking for?”
Dante stared at him. “Lot of money for a kid.”
Phillip cleared his throat. “Well, ten . . . you know, ten gives me breathing room. That’s how I look at it, at any rate.”
“I take it Eric explained my terms.”
Phillip shook his head. “Not entirely. I thought I should hear it from you.”
“The charge is twenty-five dollars per hundred per week, payable along with the principal when the note comes due.”
Phillip’s mouth was dry. “That seems steep.”
Dante opened his bottom drawer and pulled out a sheath of papers. “If you like, you can take your chances at the Bank of America two blocks down State. I’ve got the application forms right here.” He tossed a BofA loan application on the desk.
“Hey, no. I understand and I appreciate the position you’re in. You have expenses like everybody else.”
Dante made no response.
Phillip leaned forward, trying for solid eye contact, two men of the world getting down to business. “I’m wondering if twenty-five per hundred is the best you can do?”
“‘The best I can do’? You want to haggle with me?”
“Oh, no, sir. Not at all. That’s not what I meant. I just thought there might be some wiggle room.” He could feel the heat as a belated flush crept into his cheeks.
“Based on what? Our long and productive association? Your prowess at the table? Word has it, you got stuck for five grand at Caesars last week. You want my ten so you can recoup your losses and run up the rest. You think you’ll pay me off, including the juice, and keep the balance for yourself. Is that about it?”
“Actually, that’s how I’ve done it in the past.”
“‘Actually’ you can kiss my ass. All I care about is getting my money back.”
“Absolutely. No problem. You have my word.”
Dante stared at him until he looked away. “How much time are we talking here?”
Dante reached over and flipped a page on his desk calendar. “Monday, August 11.”
“That’d be great.”
Dante made a note.
Phillip hesitated, unsure what came next. “Is there paperwork?”
“An IOU or contract you want me to sign?”
Dante waved off the idea. “Don’t worry about it. Gentlemen’s agreement. We shake hands and it’s done. Check with Nico on your way out and he’ll give you the cash.”
“I mean that.”
“You can thank your old man. I’m returning a kindness from way back,” Dante said. “Speaking of which, I have a friend in management at Binion’s. You play there, he’ll comp you a room. You can tell him I said so.”
“I’ll do that, and thank you so much.”
Dante stood up and Phillip followed suit. As they shook hands, Phillip felt himself breathing a sigh of relief. In his fantasy, he’d played hardball with the vig, and Dante had come down two percentage points, impressed by his bargaining skills. Now he felt sheepish having broached the subject with a man of Dante’s reputation. He was lucky he hadn’t been thrown out on his ass. Or worse.
As though on cue, the door opened and the brunette appeared.
“One word of advice . . .” Dante added.
“Don’t mess up. You dick with me, you’ll be sorry.”
“Got it. I’m good for it. I guarantee.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
Binion’s had seen better days, but Phillip’s room was nice enough. Looked clean at any rate. He dropped his duffel
He paused at a table filled with seniors who’d been bussed in from a retirement home. They wore matching T-shirts, red with the silhouette of a setting sun in white. Play was passive, the betting haphazard, and one elderly woman had trouble remembering how hands were ranked. The guy next to her kept saying, “Alice, for god’s sake. How many times I gotta tell you, flush beats a straight and a full house beats a flush.” Small chip stacks at a table like that would probably take him weeks to get unstuck.
Once he’d made the rounds, he had the board person put his name on the list for the no-limit game on table number 4 or 8. This was No-Limit Texas Hold’em with a five-grand buy-in, rich stakes for his blood, but it was the only way he could think of to recoup his losses and put himself back on top. He preferred to play at the even-numbered tables, four being his lucky number. The first opening was seat 8 at table number 8, which he decided to view as a good omen, both being multiples of four. Phillip placed his chips to his right and ordered a vodka tonic. There were six guys already in the game and he entered in late position, which gave him a nice preview of the action. He let a couple of hands go by, showing discipline by folding on a jack-queen and then a pair of 5’s. Small pocket pairs, which rarely hit the flop, were tempting to bet and therefore dangerous.
Playing with borrowed money, he felt a certain burden to perform. Ordinarily, he liked the pressure of play because it sharpened his wits. Now he found himself tossing in hands that on other occasions he might have pushed. He picked up a small pot on two pair, and six hands later won fifteen hundred dollars on a wheel. He hadn’t lost anything to speak of, four hundred dollars max, and he felt himself grow calmer as the vodka flowed into his system. While the long, dull stretch was unproductive, it gave him the chance to watch how the others at the table operated.
V Is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes